DeKalb superintendent talks about decision to keep kids masked heading into new year

Dekalb County Schools is one of the largest districts in the state that has decided to require all students and staff to wear masks.

Channel 2′s Lori Wilson sat down with DeKalb Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Watson-Harris about the decision. She explained what went into the mask policy and how people are responding.

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“Some people aren’t thrilled about that and others are concerned and have a different opinion. But for us, we want to keep the main thing the main thing. And for us that means getting as many children back into the classroom, and making sure that our teachers and our staff members feel safe and comfortable.”

Watson-Harris said they have been following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other committees.

“We also have a medical advisory committee that are leaders in our community and our medical community, and I trust them very much,” she said. “We will continue to monitor the data monitor the science, monitor the comfort level throughout our district and make changes as necessary.”

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As one of the first districts to go back, Watson-Harris said she was well aware of how delicate the balance was between the need for face-to-face learning and student and staff safety.

“You know, it was really a tough decision. But as I shared, you know, There’s so many different opinions, there were so many different opinions, throughout various communities within our district. And we couldn’t really sway we had to pick a position, and stick with that,” the superintendent said.

“And for us, it was to follow the guidance from the CDC, to stay in communication with our medical advisory committee, as well as have so many town halls, and to read every email that was sent to us and really make the most informed decision, and that was really guided by our priority to keep our students and our staff safe.”

[RELATED: Channel 2 speaks with state superintendent on Georgia’s approach to schools and COVID-19]

Wilson asked if there was one lesson that district leaders took away from pandemic learning. Watson-Harris said it was the importance of communication.

“And I think we always knew that, but just making sure that we create as many opportunities as possible for our families, to be engaged, to have dialogue, to share their hopes and dreams or concerns, and to make sure that we’re being authentic in inviting them into the conversation. And when we don’t always agree on every decision that at least we’re creating opportunities for our families to understand the world, direction, so that was really our biggest takeaway from this whole experience,” she said.

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Wilson also asked the second-year superintendent about what her district is doing to make sure students are on track for their grade level.

“We know, the inequities that have been eliminated during this pandemic, have always existed. We’ve always had those gaps on we’re trying hard not to think about it as learning loss but interrupted learning and being very intentional about how we’re beginning the school year.”

“So we’ve intentionally built in a Bridge Academy for the first two weeks, so teachers can have the opportunity to assess each and every student to really see where they are and how we want to provide the necessary interventions to fill in the gaps.”