FULTON COUNTY, GA — Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney announced Thursday morning that students will begin the school year on Aug. 17 with the universal remote learning model.
“The data and information from our health partners is overwhelming. This virus is spreading and not slowing down,” Looney said. “I was hopeful the direction would change, but it is clear that we must pivot from the face-to-face model to the universal remote learning model in order to keep our students, their families, and our staff members safe.”
All school systems – including those in metro Atlanta, and across the nation – are challenged with similar dilemmas for how to start the 2020-2021 school year in the safest manner possible. Fulton County Schools is no different, and many parents, staff, students and the public have expressed concerns and asked questions.
With a district as large as Fulton County Schools – 106 schools and more than 93,000 students – the district must adopt an approach that is district-wide, achievable, and consistent.
“Our district is in a situation we never imagined or expected, but moving to universal remote learning is the right thing to do,” Fulton School Board President Julia Bernath said. “Keeping our students and employees safe is our top priority. The school board has full confidence in Dr. Looney and his decision.”
In May, Looney announced three models the district was developing while monitoring the spread of COVID-19:
Face-to-face instruction with enhanced cleaning and social distancing protocols
Universal remote learning
Blended learning using a combination of remote and in-person instruction
In June, he announced the district would open with face-to-face instruction but allow families to choose a virtual option for their students. He also shared that the district would remain agile and adjust to another model if data warranted a change.
The district also said last month that it wants students back in schools learning and interacting as everyone has traditionally known. However, the district said everyone must understand that when face-to-face school resumes, it will not be the same due to the pandemic.
The district floated options of face-to-face instruction or virtual instruction for weeks leading up to Thursday’s announcement, but ultimately, Looney said it would not be safe right now for students to return to classrooms.
“It is important our families know we have been preparing for this scenario,” Looney said. “We learned a great deal last spring. We saw what was working and what was not, and we used feedback from our parents, students, and staff to make changes in how instruction would be delivered remotely. There will be more rigor, more accountability, and more support. Teachers also are receiving more training, so they can successfully deliver meaningful instruction in a remote environment.”
The Fulton County School Board met Tuesday to discuss the future of reopening schools this fall.
Looney said on Tuesday that he is completely resolute with making decisions and implementing plans that are best for the school district. However, the information/data is changing rapidly, and his main concern is to “get this right.” Looney continued that the district must react to the conditions given, as well as the level of community spread, while desiring to return to school in the safest manner possible.
As examples, some changes will benefit students and their parents helping at home. The number of online platforms has been streamlined, with ClassLink used as the single sign-on for district software applications and Microsoft Teams used for instruction and communication. Students will follow a predetermined school schedule, and grading and attendance practices will be consistent and recorded. Fulton County Schools will continue to provide digital learning devices for students in grades 3-12, but prekindergarten through second grade will rely heavily on printed learning packets.
The district also will share resources with parents for how to help their student at home.
Other changes will better support teachers and allow more access to educational resources while providing increased opportunities for professional support and sharing of best practices. Teachers will be expected to submit lesson plans for all learning activities, and this will help school leaders provide more guidance and input to teachers needing support.
Looney will present more specific details about universal remote learning at the school board’s next meeting on Thursday, July 23, as well as share the revised back-to-school plan with the Georgia Department of Education.
Georgia reported nearly 4,000 new cases of COVID-19 in Wednesday’s daily report, the seventh time the number of new coronavirus cases has surpassed 3,000 since the pandemic began.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reported a total of 127,834 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at 2:50 p.m. Wednesday. That’s 3,871 more than was reported at the same time Tuesday. Georgia’s record for most new COVID-19 cases in a day is 4,484, set on July 10.
Fulton County has the second highest number of cases in the state, behind Gwinnett County, with 11,746 cases as of Wednesday. However, Fulton leads the state in deaths by county with 331 deaths.
Gov. Brian Kemp again extended coronavirus restrictions Wednesday night, including limiting gatherings to 50 people, and encouraging social distancing and mask wearing.
This article originally appeared on the Alpharetta-Milton Patch