Fulton County Schools set to reopen amid its highest COVID case count

Fulton County Schools started the second semester with virtual learning. AJC FILE PHOTO

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Fulton County Schools started the second semester with virtual learning. AJC FILE PHOTO

Fulton County Schools plans to resume in-person learning Monday.

But the district cautioned in a Friday message that it is facing staffing challenges, a factor that could impact the ability of individual schools to continue in-person classes.

“With the omicron surge over the holidays, hundreds of employees have reported positive COVID-19 test results,” the statement said. “Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel of this wave. Health officials have predicted the peak of the current surge will happen soon, which indicates the number of positive cases should decline quickly.”

Fulton, Georgia’s fourth-largest school system, was among a half-dozen metro Atlanta districts to move classes online this week.

The district recorded 1,160 COVID-19 cases from Dec. 31 to Jan. 6. That’s the district’s highest count since the start of the 2021-2022 school year. The district’s second highest case count — 892 — was recorded the week ending Aug. 26.

Masks will be required in Fulton schools through Jan. 21.

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Going forward, Fulton officials will not rely on a specific data point, such as community infection rates, to determine if students are learning in-person or virtually.

Instead, Superintendent Mike Looney, in consultation with principals and the district’s COVID-19 task force, will determine if a school, grade level or class should pivot to virtual learning.

The factors they will weigh when making that decision include staffing levels, COVID-19 case numbers and if community spread is stretching health resources.

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Spokesman Brian Noyes said district leaders are moving away from relying on a case number threshold or single data point because the pandemic is now in a different stage. Vaccines and boosters are available, and reports indicate that the omicron variant is less severe, the district statement said.

“We understand this is a complicated, ever-changing situation and it has created inconvenience and frustration for all of us. FCS keeps safety as our primary concern and continues to balance decisions about COVID with the goal of maintaining in-person instruction,” the statement said.