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Fulton teachers walk out over fears about opening schools amid COVID-19

By Ben Brasch, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

A group of Fulton County Schools teachers on Thursday voiced their frustration about the district’s plan to return to in-person instruction — and the district pushed back.

An unknown number of teachers walked out during their lunch breaks, so as to not disrupt teaching, to protest Fulton bringing back a quarter of students next Monday after being the first to stop face-to-face schooling due to COVID-19.

This is among the strongest actions the teachers can take because Georgia’s teachers don’t have access to unions in the traditional sense — state law prohibits collective bargaining and strikes by public employees. Teachers can join professional organizations that provide access to legal services, training opportunities and give them a more influential voice at the Capitol.

French teacher Brett Edeker said he and about 30 others walked outside of Riverwood High School in Sandy Springs to show they are afraid of returning everyone to classrooms. He said there were walkouts at Tri-Cities High School and other schools.

“We’re trying to play within the rules of our job, we’re fearful of retaliation, so we’re trying to do it at a time that doesn’t impact students,” Edeker said.

The school district disagrees.

When asked for comment, FCS spokesman Brian Noyes in part said: “While personal expression is important, it is also important for those opinions to be expressed in proper forums. Organizing efforts while at work and utilizing school equipment is not appropriate.”

Edeker and others published an open letter criticizing the district and saying they have ignored teachers.

Noyes said Superintendent Mike Looney has had monthly virtual meetings with his teacher council, parent council, PTA/PTO groups and student council. Noyes added that all disinfection guidelines and the return plan both include input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our teachers and employees should know data is driving is our decisions and the trends are favorable in Fulton County,” Noyes said. ” … FCS has implemented a slow and cautious approach for returning to face-to-face instruction. Getting back to teaching exactly as it was before the coronavirus may not be possible, but we must recover and move forward in the best way we can.”

The full return of students is planned for Oct. 14 if case trends continue to improve.