Editor’s Note: Since this article has been published, new COVID-19 protocols has been put into place for Atlanta Public Schools. See updates here.

The omicron variant has quickly spread across the country as thousands of metro Atlanta students were preparing to begin their spring semesters.

Most school districts in the region were scheduled to resume in-person learning the first week of January. However since the new year district have been announcing that students would have virtual learning days before returning to school buildings on January 10.

Metro Atlanta districts that are virtual until Jan. 10 are, Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County, DeKalb County and Clayton County.

Gwinnett County Schools will reopen for in-person learning on Jan 6 with masks required for all people inside school buildings.

Cobb County Schools will remain mask-optional when schools open Jan 5. The district has asked parents to keep their children home if they are sick or have a pending COVID-19 test.

City Schools of Decatur opened Tuesday for in-person classes. Decatur is the smallest of the districts with just under 6,000 students.

Decatur is also the only district to implement a vaccine mandate for all staff. In their final meeting of the year the school board announced that by Jan 31 all staff members must have received the booster shot.

While the omicron variant was unexpected, the Health Services Department of Atlanta Public Schools told the Atlanta Voice last month that they were prepared for cases to spike due to holiday travel.

However the contagiousness of the omicron variant forced the district to begin the year with virtual instruction.

The mandatory surveillance testing policy for APS employees means employees will test negative before Jan 10. APS announced it would be using the testing data to make further decisions about in-person learning.

The district is also urging parents to sign their children up for voluntary surveillance testing done twice a week through the schools. The program began in February 2021 and tests participating students twice a week.

Clayton County, which has had a number of temporary school closures this year due to cases of COVID-19, is requiring employees test negative before returning to school buildings. Students can also get tested for free through the district.

Vaccine and booster shot appointments are also available at Perry Career Academy and Lovejoy Middle School through Clayton County.

In light of the temporary return to virtual learning, the affected districts have also announced their meal distribution plans. All school meals are free since the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture decided to continue the program for the 2021-2022 school year.

APS will be distributing meals at eight sites across the city for APS students or community members under-18.

Clayton County students can pick up meals from any school in the district. They also have an ongoing partnership with Atlanta Community Food Bank to have six temporary food pantries set up throughout the county for the month of January.

Meal kits for Fulton County students were made available to parents who pre-registered with the district online. DeKalb County families can pick up two meals-a-day from their child’s school.

Madeline Thigpen is an education reporter and Report for America Corps Member. She joined the Atlanta Voice in 2021. At the Voice she covers K-12 education for the Atlanta metro region and higher education....