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Gwinnett Co. Parents, Students Hold Second Protest Calling For In-Person Classes

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) -- A crowd that gathered outside of the Gwinnett County Public Schools Instructional Support Center on Monday afternoon said they want their voices heard.

They are protesting the decision to start the school year with only virtual instruction and no other options, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I'm not even here for my own children, I'm here for all these children in the lower performing clusters, children who have parents who don't have the opportunity to work from home," said Melanie Cacares, a protest co-organizer who is also a parent and former GCPS teacher.

It was their second protest in a week, after the school system reversed its original decision of allowing parents to choose between in-person and virtual classes. Thousands have signed a petition demanding that option.

Residents in Cobb County and other school systems have also started petitions.

"I miss a lot of things. I couldn't be with my friends, I couldn't be with my favorite teachers, and it really took a toll on my mental health," said Mary Norz, a senior at Grayson High School, in reference to having to learn from home when schools closed during the spring.

Gwinnett County school officials issued this statement after the first protest:

When Gwinnett County Public Schools announced it would start the year on August 12 digitally, it also shared that the goal was to return to in-person instruction when that became possible. We have developed solid plans for both digital instruction and how to move seamlessly to in-person instruction at the appropriate time. We understand the frustration of the parents and students here today. Certainly our preference is to start the school year at school with students and teachers together in classrooms as there is nothing better than face-to-face instruction. However, that transition must be done in a strategic and safe manner.

They declined any further comment on the matter.

"Mr. Wilbanks has not made public statement to address a single one of these parents. We have emailed and called him over and over again," Cacares said, referring to the superintendent.

Parents, including those who have kids with special needs, said they want answers.

"For my child that was told that computers were not sufficient to teach him speech and all the other stuff, I'm just saying give him the services he needs," said Elaine Nietmann, who said her son is autistic and requires in-person instruction.

Some health experts have said the increasing number of COVID-19 cases makes it too risky to open up classrooms, while other experts have said online instruction does not meet the educational needs of all students.

Organizers said they expect to have more protests before school starts on August 12.

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