NORTH FULTON—School districts across the state are tapping into a pipeline of safety supplies and materials as they struggle to balance student and staff safety with the mission of education under the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since spring, staff has been working to acquire [needed resources] to support our schools and ultimately our face-to-face plans,” said Brian Noyes, chief communications officer for Fulton County Schools.

The district shut down its 105 school buildings in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and spent the summer months preparing its schools and staff for a gradual reopening of classes.

In the past few months, Fulton County Schools has received more than a half million face masks and shields, and is set to receive another 35,000 masks this week. This is on top of deliveries of hand sanitizer, plexiglass partitions, microfiber cloths, disposable gowns, and even 32 washer and dryers received since spring.

The need for personal protective equipment (PPE) and support items is greater now as the district opens its doors to full face-to-face instruction on Oct. 14. In the gradual reopening occurring over the past several weeks, some teachers reported issues with the cleanliness of the classrooms.

COVID-19 positive cases continue to decline statewide, and in Fulton County over previous week’s numbers, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

In Fulton schools, an average 38 staff/students have tested positive each week since school opened in mid-August. Teachers returned to classrooms in late July; students began phased returns in mid-September. The district employs nearly 14,000 teachers and staff. Enrollment this year is expected to be around 90,000 students.

Noyes said much of the cost of the items needed for both safety and to support students with virtual learning was covered by the CARES Act funding authorized by the federal government in March. Fulton County Schools’ share was just over $18 million dollars.

“[Additionally] many departments and individual schools worked within their existing budgets to purchase items and supplies to meet their needs in this COVID 19 environment.” Noyes said. A second round of CARES funding has not been announced.

Departmental purchases included 14,900 devices (i.e. tablets, computers) for students to learn remotely, disinfectant sprayers for school buses, and gowns and protective clothing for food service workers on the front line of meal service delivery.

The Georgia Emergency Management Homeland Security Agency is coordinating most of the acquisition of resources from its massive warehouses across the state. Other agencies, including Disney and United Way, are also stepping up to assist school districts, Noyes said.

The Georgia Department of Education is the point agency for logistics, said Meghan Frick, the agency’s director of communications. She noted all school districts have received supplies.

“School districts did not have to present a need,” Frick said. “Items were distributed to every district [and] school in the state based on the number of schools in the district or enrollment.”

The state has had three rounds of distribution so far. Items ranged from face masks and no-touch thermometers in round one, fogger machines and hand sanitizer stations in round two, and to a wider variety of face masks and shields in round three.

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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