HT Local News

Atlanta school district releases COVID-19 case numbers

By Vanessa McCray, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Nick Avila for (CNT) City News and Talk #atlanta-ga 

Atlanta Public Schools is beginning to post COVID-19 student and staff case numbers on its website, an effort officials said is aimed at transparency.

The district recently began publishing a portion of a weekly “situation report” produced by the Georgia Department of Public Health. The state agency collects new case numbers from individual schools at the end of each week, compiles the data into a report and then sends it to the superintendent.

Health department officials began requiring schools to submit the information in August, but said it would be up to individual districts to release that data publicly.

“Transparency is critical in these efforts,” said Katika Lovett, APS assistant superintendent of student services. “It’s critical that we are sharing information.”

During the first 10 weeks of required reporting, APS recorded a total of 26 cases — 17 employees and nine students, according to documents provided to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The district also announced last week that Superintendent Lisa Herring tested positive for COVID-19. She is working while in quarantine.

The Atlanta district has held classes virtually since spring, but the state requires schools to report weekly coronavirus infections even if teaching is happening online.

The data will become even more important as parents decide whether to send their child back to classrooms when APS resumes in-person instruction. The district delayed reopening school buildings this fall because of rising infections in Fulton and DeKalb counties, but the school system is planning for a potential return in January.

The district first posted the data publicly at the end of last month and updated the website again Tuesday with information from the state’s Oct. 30 report. The state sent the latest report Wednesday, and the district will update its website shortly, said district spokesman Ian Smith.

District officials told school board members last week that they will work to post timely data.

Board chairman Jason Esteves said at a recent meeting that APS should refresh numbers as quickly as possible, using information collected directly from schools instead of waiting for the state to send its report. That’s a step Herring said her team can do.

The information APS posts online includes a listing of staff and student cases by school.

For the week ending Oct. 30, for example, the website shows one case each at Douglass High School, Hollis Innovation Academy and Slater Elementary School. KIPP Atlanta Collegiate recorded two cases.

The weekly state report includes other information that APS has not posted publicly but has released in response to an open-records requests from the AJC. For example, the complete report shows the number of students and employees in isolation or quarantine, as well as the cumulative number of cases in the district since late August when the state began its tracking system.

Atlanta high school sports have been permitted to continue, and schools have been able to track coronavirus cases among student-athletes, said Lovett. But schools may not know about every student who has fallen ill while learning at home unless parents alert their child’s school.

“Parents have to report that information to the district for us to report it here,” she said.

About a third of the district’s schools haven’t reported data in the most recent report.

Lovett said administrators are working with school staff to emphasize the need to submit the information weekly to the state and enter the numbers correctly so that it shows up in the report.