ATLANTA — The Fulton County Board of Education granted Superintendent Mike Looney unprecedented powers to make decisions for the next two months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fulton school buildings closed in mid-March and are not expected to re-open until summer.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s statewide shelter in place order, issued April 2, effectively mandates the state’s 2 million students complete the school year at home.

In Fulton County, the district’s 94,000 students will continue to take classes at home through the end of the school year. District leaders approved a host of policies to ensure students will have academic flexibility to complete — and pass— their courses.

Under the board’s action taken during its virtual meeting on April 2, Looney was given authority to waive “policies, procedures and operating guidelines” to operate the district. The authority will run through June 1, or further if necessary, and Looney must notify board members of any actions within 48 hours.

In the meeting, Looney told the seven-member school board he will keep them all informed as he makes decisions that veer from policy.

In his remarks, Looney said Fulton Schools has set the standards for many of the 180 state school districts. The district was the first to move to online learning, having had the first COVID-19 cases among staff members in the state.

“I believe Fulton County Schools is leading the pack as we engage in continuous learning,” Looney said. “We are in trying and uncertain times, and this is far from over. Every day, new challenges [occur], but we will get through this.”

Grades, summer school

All students will have the opportunity to be “held harmless” from any negative impact to their grades during remote learning, as long as they turn in their work. No student will have a lower grade than the one they had on March 12 when school buildings closed, but they will have opportunities to improve their grades. Elementary school students will be graded on a scale of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” in lieu of letter grades. Middle school students will go to a “pass/fail” system in all courses except for those that are taken for college credit. High school students will continue to receive numerical grades for HOPE scholarship criteria.

“Teachers are bending over backwards to help students who appear to be disengaged and are giving them multiple opportunities to get to where they need to be and master the goals,” School Board member Katie Reeves said.

Summer school will be held in two sessions. The first session will remain online and will focus on those students who need remediation. The second is planned to be a mix of virtual and in-person instruction, provided schools have been re-opened by that time.

Graduation for seniors

All external venues planned for graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020 have been cancelled. Looney has allowed each school to devise its own plan for graduation ceremonies and is encouraging schools to talk to their senior classes and the school community to devise the best way to celebrate the students. The last day of class for seniors is May 1 to allow the seniors time to plan appropriate, likely virtual, activities.

School meal program

Meals continue to be provided to students in need across the county at 21 sites, averaging 50,000 meals weekly. Plans are being made to extend the meal program through the summer with details to come out later. The district is being challenged in keeping staff and the community safe while handing out meals. One staff member at a location in South Fulton is being tested for COVID-19, prompting the closure of that site for the time being.

Looney said the district is adapting to the challenges by keeping 94,000 students and 14,000 staff engaged and informed throughout the emergency, and he credited the entire school community.

“I’m proud of our students, and proud of our parents who are often balancing work and being a teacher at home,” Looney said. “And I am proud of our teachers who have stepped up and created wonderful lessons that are engaging our students in a myriad of ways.”

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