FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — The Fulton County School Board addressed an array of issues, from enrollment forecasts to other aspects of life under COVID disruption, at its monthly meeting April 16.
The board continues to hold virtual sessions with staff, and there are no plans for assembling in person until the ban on large gatherings is lifted by Gov. Brian Kemp.
The district expects to enroll nearly 1,000 fewer students in the 2020-21 school year, continuing a decline in student population that began three years ago. Approximately 93,686 students are projected to enroll, according to district planners. Schools in North Fulton will likely see the biggest drop in numbers, based on projections, with schools in Sandy Springs and South Fulton less impacted. The district’s chief planner said the number of new students continues to rise, but not enough to replace graduating classes from the prior year.
Fulton School leaders are encouraging high schools to come up with creative ways to celebrate the Class of 2020, but they acknowledged traditional ceremonies are likely off the table until later in the summer.
“[Everyone] is working hard to find solutions during these unreal times, [but] we don’t want to promise something we can’t deliver,” said Cliff Jones, chief academic officer for Fulton Schools.
He acknowledged many parents want to model what Forsyth County Schools is planning, a traditional ceremony scheduled for late July. But given the many unknowns about what the next few months may bring, the system is hesitant to make hard and fast decisions.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t care…we are trying to find creative solutions,” Jones said.
May 22 is the official end of the school year, so committing school resources to projects after that date may be a problem, Jones said.
Teachers and staff will not be under contract in the summer and cannot be compelled to participate, school buildings and resources may be unavailable, and students are technically no longer under the purview of the district.
Superintendent Mike Looney said another challenge may be in gathering students together months after school ends because many will be off to new jobs, college, joining the military or other commitments.
“We think it’s important that every student gets to be celebrated in some way,” Looney said. “How that may best work is a [school-based] decision with the graduates, parents and the community.”
He asked all high schools to host a virtual graduation in May, and will support a later in-person celebration if the school makes that decision. Venues such as stadiums and auditoriums will be made available, he noted.
Already some schools have plans for billboard displays for graduates, senior town hall meetings, car parades, virtual honor nights, virtual academic and athletic signing days, and recognition in the newspapers.
The concerns over graduation seemed to come mainly from board members in North Fulton who passed on their community wishes. In South Fulton, the need for in-person graduation was less pressing as COVID cases are disproportionally impacting residents.
“Our community has been hit hard [by COVID],” said Linda Bryant, a South Fulton board member. “Everyone would like to graduate…but it’s a whole different ballgame for us because of fear in the community of large gatherings.”
As a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, Fulton Schools switched from five-day to one-day delivery of meals on April 15. The program runs through the end of the school year.
All personnel handing out food will wear face masks. About 120 school staff members are involved in the program.
Chief Operating Officer Patrick Burke said the meals will be at 21 designated meal stops from 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. for any child 18 and under (up to 21 for those with special needs). The meals meet USDA nutritional guidelines and include a mix of fresh and frozen products.
He noted on the first day of the revised program, April 15, the district reported no drop in number of people requesting meals and some areas reported higher needs.
“Over 67,000 meals were served [on day one], which is higher than the average number since the start of the program,” Burke said.
In North Fulton, meal pickup sites include Esther Jackson, Mimosa and Vickery Mill elementary schools, and Haynes Bridge and Holcomb Bridge middle schools. All sites are in Roswell.