NORTH FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Fulton County Schools plans to reach a decision soon on how instruction will be delivered next semester as officials monitor the persistent impact of COVID-19 cases.
The district reopened all schools to face-to-face learning on Oct. 14 after a seven-month stint of virtual instruction. This semester, students can choose virtual or in-person learning, with flexibility to change that decision.
The Fulton County School Board is expected to outline an instruction plan for the second semester at its Nov. 19 meeting.
Since reopening in mid-October, three schools in North Fulton temporarily closed for deep cleaning after positive COVID tests sent high numbers of students and staff into quarantine.
Cambridge High School in Milton became the first area school to pause in-school instruction in mid-October after two cases of COVID required more than 120 staff or students to quarantine.
Last week Milton High School and Hembree Springs Middle School resumed virtual instruction for three days before reopening classrooms to students.
Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney acknowledged the challenges of instruction in uncertain times, and under the additional disruption of Hurricane Zeta which closed all schools in late October.
“[I’m] very proud of our team’s response and impressed with the number of students that logged on to continue learning [after the hurricane shutdown],” Looney said in a tweet to the district.
Fulton County Schools worked for months on an opening and closing plan for all schools as it prepared for the return of students in the fall. The goal was to resume building openings when statistics showed no more than 100 positive cases per 100,000 county residents, or two reporting periods of decreasing rates, based on data from the Fulton County Public Health Department.
That number was achieved in mid-October allowing all schools to resume in-person instruction for students who chose to attend. Since then, the COVID positivity rates have slowly risen. As of the end of October, nearly every community in the Fulton School district is above the 100-case threshold per 100,000.
Looney said closing all schools in March for one positive case was a mistake, and he noted the entire district will not shut down again unless advised to by health officials. District officials say that is still the plan, despite the disruption of individual schools opening and closing.
“We are monitoring the data in collaboration with the Fulton Board of Health,” said Chief Communications Officer Brian Noyes. “By working together, any major decision will be collaborative.”
Social media was quick to both praise and criticize the decision to keep all schools open during a national and statewide rise in COVID cases. District officials maintain the decision to return to school or remain in virtual learning rests with the students and parents.
About 60 percent of the district’s 93,000 students chose in-person instruction in October.
Some parents focused on why siblings of those who were quarantined, but attend other schools, were allowed to remain in school. Noyes said the district follows the plan it set and the advice of public health officials.
“The school closing matrix is clear,” Noyes said. “Schools are put into remote learning based on cases at that school. We encourage families who think they have been exposed to get tested, [and] this includes siblings.”
He also reminded families to be particularly vigilant during the Thanksgiving holidays where large gatherings may be taking place.
“We are concerned [with holiday breaks] and will be sending reminders to our community, staff and students about ways to stay safe from the virus during this time,” Noyes said.