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NORTH FULTON — In the space of one month, Fulton Schools went from celebrating COVID numbers that allowed a return to in-person instruction to considering a return to remote instruction.

“The number of COVID positive cases are increasing in Fulton County, as they are across the state, region and country,” said Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney. “We continue to collaborate with [Fulton County Public Health] officials, asking them critical questions as we continue to manage the increasing COVID cases.”

Looney said he had a “significant meeting” with public health officials last week where the question of whether the system should return to remote instruction came up.

“The recommendation is [the district] is on the right path of managing the exposure,” Looney said. “The experience in our schools is to be expected in a situation when COVID is all around.”

The district reopened classrooms for in-person instruction on Oct. 14, but has since temporarily closed multiple schools because of COVID. In four weeks, the positivity rate in Fulton County rose from slightly over 100 cases per 100,000 residents to 171 cases.

“The data speaks for itself,” Looney said. “The trend is rising cases in most of our communities.”

Looney emphasized his intent is to keep the district open for in-person instruction for those who choose, but will yield to public health officials if they believe all 100-plus schools across the district should close.

Currently, the district is following a three-stage plan on how to handle COVID cases within the school. The district has changed some of the protocols, including now notifying every parent if cases have been identified in their child’s school. Previously, only those directly impacted would be notified.

So far, impacted schools have closed for up to three days to allow contract tracing for exposure, deep cleaning and disinfection. Contract tracing now follows updated CDC recommendations, which includes anyone who has been in close proximity to an infected person for at least 15 cumulative minutes over a 24-hour period.

Fulton Schools will also begin providing school-based COVID Information twice a week — on Monday and Thursday — instead of only weekly reports. The information provides a synopsis of confirmed cases among staff and students along with numbers of those quarantined after direct exposure.

Looney said school data for quarantine includes only those confirmed to have exposure within a school setting, not in the general public.

He noted the district has seen a very low rate of positive cases developing among the hundreds of individuals who have had to quarantine as a result of exposure. That said, the district will continue to mandate a 14-day quarantine for anyone with exposure to a COVID-positive individual, regardless of any negative tests.

Looney asked for the community’s help in keeping the district open by staying home when sick and not coming to school while awaiting results of a COVID test.

“It is imperative you do not come to school or work if you are sick or if you are waiting test results,” Looney said. “As a school district we will not be able to remain open if people continue to do that sort of thing.”

The decision on how instruction will be delivered next semester will be made at the Nov. 19 meeting of the Fulton School Board.

Candy Waylock is an award winning education reporter who has covered all things education for Appen Media over the past 20 years. She is an Alpharetta resident.

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