Two Atlanta Public Schools races head to runoff election

Nine seats on the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) school board in Georgia—three at-large and six by-district seats—were up for general election on Nov. 2. Districts 1, 4, 5, and 6 and At-Large Districts 8 and 9 were decided in the general election, but District 2 and At-Large District 7 will go to a runoff election scheduled for Nov. 30, 2021.

General election winners were Katie Howard in District 1, Jennifer McDonald in District 4, Erika Yvette Mitchell in District 5, Eshé Collins in District 6, Cynthia Briscoe Brown in At-Large District 8, and Jason Esteves in At-Large District 9. Aretta Baldon and Keisha Carey will advance to a runoff election for the District 2 seat, while Tamara Jones and KaCey Venning will advance to a runoff for the At-Large District 7 seat.

Six incumbents were seeking re-election: Brown (At-Large District 8), Esteves (At-Large District 9), Baldon (District 2), Michelle Olympiadis (District 3), Mitchell (District 5), and Collins (District 6). Three incumbents did not seek re-election: Kandis Wood Jackson (At-Large Seat 7), Leslie Grant (District 1), and Nancy Meister (District 4).

With one-quarter of APS students enrolled in charter and partner schools, standards for renewing and expanding charter schools were major issues in this race. In 2018, the board voted 5-4 to allow KIPP Metro Atlanta, a network of charter schools, to continue to operate until 2023 when the charter must be renewed or terminated. Of the incumbent candidates in this election, Esteves and Collins supported the KIPP charter, while Brown, Mitchell, and Olympiadis opposed it.

COVID-19 response policies, including mask and vaccine mandates, were also an issue. In addition to implementing a school-wide mask policy and mandatory twice-weekly testing requirement for staff for the 2021-2022 school year, APS released a statement on Oct. 7, 2021, saying the school district would “continue to study the feasibility and need for a vaccine mandate in our district.”

The 2021 election is the last election during which every board seat is up for election simultaneously, as Georgia’s HB 1075 changed the state’s school board election process so that members’ terms are staggered. The candidates who won in odd-numbered districts will serve two-year terms expiring Dec. 31, 2023. Candidates who won seats in even-numbered districts will serve four-year terms ending Dec. 31, 2025.

Atlanta Public Schools is located in northwestern Georgia in Fulton County and DeKalb County. It is classified as a large city school district by the National Center for Education Statistics. The district served 52,377 students during the 2018-2019 school year and comprised 89 schools.