NORTH FULTON — Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney gave a shout out to the community for their efforts at slowing the spread of COVID-19 across the county and get kids back into schools again.

“The good news is the data is looking promising,” Looney said. “We are not where we want to be, but it is clear the community has rallied around us.”

Fulton Schools opened Aug. 17 with more than 93,000 students learning online. Students have not been in school buildings since mid-March and likely will not return until mid-September at the earliest.

A public health report presented at the Aug. 20 School Board meeting showed positivity cases in many Fulton County cities are leveling off, or declining, although several continue to show persistently high numbers of cases.

A reopening plan developed by Fulton Schools shows a return to school as early as Sept. 8 for some students, based on a decline in the new diagnosis rate in the county. The plan was tweaked this week to bring in special education students as soon as possible, noting the pressing need for face-to-face instruction.

A spokesman for the district noted a return to classrooms would still allow virtual instruction to remain in place for those not ready to return.

“Dr. Looney is going to try and bring in the special education population earlier, and they will not have to follow the data [mandates] in the matrix,” said Brian Noyes, director of Communication for the school system.

He noted individualized bus routes and smaller classroom settings already in place for special education make the transition to school more efficient.

That day could not come soon enough for parent Scott Jeffries, whose son receives special education services at Roswell High School. He has resorted to paying a private tutor to take over his son’s instruction. He said trying to keep his son on task since March has not gone well.

“I’m hopeful the system is starting to listen to parents.” Jeffries said. “Not all parents can pay for a tutor, and frankly they should not have to if Fulton would simply find a way to get our kids back into the classroom safely.”

Pre-K through second grade students will also be prioritized for return to classrooms, as virtual instruction is often more challenging in younger learners.

At this time, the decision to re-open schools will be countywide, based on county data. North Fulton board members Linda McCain and Katie Reeves questioned that tactic, noting the rate of positive cases across the district vary widely and should be considered separately.

Johns Creek has posted a positive rate of fewer than 150 cases per 100,000 since mid-July. Fairburn and Union City in the southern part of the county have consistently posted a rate of more than 300 cases per 100,000 in the same time frame.

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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