ATLANTA – An organization representing Georgia teachers has filed a lawsuit accusing Gov. Brian Kemp and State School Superintendent Richard Woods of mishandling the reopening of public schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The suit, filed by the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), seeks a ruling that public-school students have a constitutional right to attend schools that meet basic health and safety standards and that public school districts have a duty to provide a safe work environment for their employees.
“Georgia’s 1.8 million public school students deserve to be safe and healthy in all school settings,” said Lisa Morgan, a kindergarten teacher and the GAE’s president. “Decisions by some of our leaders have led to classroom and school environments that endanger our children.”
Kemp ordered public schools across Georgia to shut down last March as COVID-19 began spreading throughout the state. Students completed the spring semester online.
During the summer, the governor expressed a preference for reopening the schools to in-person instruction but left that decision up to local school districts.
School systems opened in August for the 2021-22 term under various scenarios, from completely virtual to fully in-person to a combination of the two. In many cases, parents within the same schools were given a choice of whether to keep their kids at home or send them to school.
“Educators fully understand the preferred option of in-person instruction,” Morgan said. “We want to be in our classrooms interacting with our students and providing them the instructional experiences we know provide them the best learning opportunities. However, our overriding concern is the welfare and safety of our students.”
The suit names as co-defendants the superintendent and school board members in the Paulding County School District, citing a video a student shot there in August that went viral showing crowded school hallways.
“Public health experts across the country and the world have issued extensive recommendations regarding whether and how schools should reopen,” the suit states. “Schools should only be opened for in-person instruction where levels of COVID-19 transmission in the surrounding community are low.”
The governor’s office doesn’t usually comment on pending litigation, Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said Thursday.
At a news conference Wednesday, Kemp said new positive cases of coronavirus in Georgia have dropped more than 60% from their peak in July, and the two-week positivity average – a key marker to assess the virus’ spread – has fallen by half since August.
The GAE suit was filed in Fulton County Superior Court.