The Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education officially set opening day for Aug. 24, with classes being held virtually for the first nine weeks due to the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases. In its Aug. 3 meeting, the board also approved a change in dress code requiring all students to wear masks when in-person classes resume and approved the reinstatement and creation of new staff positions.

The district will spend $24.6 million over five years to lease laptops and iPads for 40,000 students, making sure every APS student has a device.

Superintendent Lisa Herring received approval to reinstate four positions, including chief of schools, chief of staff, chief academic officer and senior administrative manager. Herring also got approval to bring two of her colleagues from her previous appointment as superintendent of Birmingham City Schools to fill two of those positions.

Jarod Bishop, who served as Herring’s executive coordinator of policy governance and external affairs, will take the APS chief of staff position, while Anita Williams, who served as instructional superintendent in Birmingham, will become APS’s new chief of schools.

Perhaps the most significant new leadership position will be the chief equity and social justice officer, which will be filled after a nationwide search. Herring described the position as a “monumental” step forward for the school district.

“Atlanta is the most unequal city in our nation due to income inequality,” Herring said.  “White students are 4.5 grade levels ahead of their black peers.” She said that APS would also formally support LGBTQIA+ students, including policy changes and the creation of student clubs.

Herring also announced that full-time staff – including paraprofessionals, clerks, custodians, and food staff – would also get a pay increase to $15 per hour.

Herring said the annual Back to School Bash, usually held at the World Congress Center, would happen virtually, with “digital experiences and events” to be announced. APS will still be distributing backpacks and supplies, and parents will receive information about where to pick them up.

Meal distribution will also continue and Herring encouraged families to sign up via the APS website.

Board Chairman Jason Esteves said that a committee had also been established to look at the renaming of Forrest Hills Academy in southwest Atlanta, which is named after Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest. Esteves said similar committees had also been created to consider renaming Grady High School and Joseph E. Brown Middle School.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.