DeKalb County School District students still have no return date to in-person classes as officials expressed skepticism amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The return question was discussed by the DeKalb County Board of Education Dec. 7 in a non-voting session where no decisions were made.

The delayed return in DCSD and Atlanta Public Schools is dividing parents into opposing groups.

DCSD has said it will offer in-person classes when the coronavirus diagnosis rate drops below 100 cases per 100,000 people for 14 straight days. The Dec. 4 numbers in DeKalb showed 323 cases per 100,000.

“We get emails like we’re the ones keeping children home,” said school board member Joyce Morley. “We’re going to have to do what we have to do. I’d rather be out until we know it’s safe.”

DCSD asked parents to file declarations saying whether they wanted their children to attend in-person or virtually for the second semester. Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said 43% wanted some type of face-to-face learning. The rest wanted distance study.

Those wanting a return to school have been vocal about their discontent with virtual learning. About 100 people rallied at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park on Dec. 6 to urge DCSD and Atlanta Public Schools to resume in-person classes, or at least give parents a choice. APS has announced a tentative schedule for in-person classes starting in late January, but officials there also say the surge in COVID-19 cases could delay that timeline.

The Georgia Department of Education reported last month that less than 7% of Georgia’s school districts have no face-to-face learning. In the metro Atlanta area, Clayton County Schools and the City Schools of Decatur also are online-only. The Fulton County School System is among those offering an in-person option.

Several DeKalb school board members expressed concern about the effect the virtual model was having on student attendance and actual learning. The board was shown results from the Measure of Aptitude, or MAP, scores from the fall testing. Only 80% of the students took it.

“I’m afraid a lot of people aren’t engaged,” said board member Stan Jester, a Dunwoody resident.

Watson-Harris agreed. “It’s not enough for a student to wake up and turn on their computer,” she said.

DCSD plans on holding several town halls over the next two weeks to discuss the issue.

In the end, the safety of the students is what is important no matter what is decided, Watson-Harris said. “We’ve been guided by the science community,” she said.

Holly R. Price is a freelance writer based in metro Atlanta.