Today, just eight days before school starts, there is still much uncertainty surrounding this virus, and more challenges have emerged as we wrestle with determining the best plan for opening school. That decision is made harder because there is easy access to a lot of conflicting information about COVID-19 from multiple sources, while the airwaves are filled with reports about increasing cases in Gwinnett County. We must balance that information against the concerns of parents who fear for their children’s educational progress, as well as their own employment, and need for us to bring their children back to school. At the same time, we must care for our people, many of whom have understandable concerns about returning to work when they feel the virus risk remains high for them and their families.
The Gwinnett County Board of Education and I know that the decisions we make carry high stakes for our families, students, employees, and community members. That is why we have listened to you, read your emails, and reached out to you for input as we developed possible plans for the start of school. Those plans, out of necessity, have changed from time to time, but our steadfast goal has not. We have stated from the beginning of the COVID crisis that in-person instruction for every student is what we prefer and would work to achieve. That remains our primary objective, and is the focus of this letter.
We will begin to implement in-person instruction for students whose parents desire it, and do so as soon and as safely as possible. Here is what you need to know about our plans.
We announced on July 20 that, due to the increasing spread of COVID-19 in the county, our schools would open with 100% digital instruction for all students. Teachers would deliver that instruction from their school sites beginning August 12. That plan remains in effect. Simultaneously, we will take steps to gradually transition to a blend of in-person and digital learning for students, based on their parents’ choices. Our hope is that shortly after the school year starts, we can begin to honor the choices parents made in July for either in-person or digital instruction for their children. A letter confirming the parent’s choice for each child will be sent by mid-August.
Student and staff safety will be the paramount factor in determining the pace at which we will move. We plan to begin small, bringing in a limited number of grade levels at first, then adding more grades on a staggered basis. As we have done throughout the past months, we will rely on guidance from health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Georgia Department of Public Health, and the Gwinnett County Department of Public Health, as well as the Georgia Department of Education, in making that determination.
How might this plan work? The table below represents a “best-case scenario” for beginning the transition for families who want us to provide in-person instruction. Adjustments to the dates and the grade levels listed may be necessary based on the still-fluid COVID-19 situation in Gwinnett County. Regardless of the timeline, we will monitor the local conditions on a regular basis, and with guidance from our health partners, will either slow down the return to school or continue with the plan accordingly. Updates to the plan will be communicated promptly and as far in advance as possible so families and employees have time to prepare. At all times, extensive protective measures will be in place to sanitize our facilities, maintain social distance to the fullest extent possible, and make the return to school safe for children and adults. (A list of these protective measures is posted on the GCPS website.)
Our starting point for providing in-person instruction is outlined in this chart. Actual starting dates will be influenced by guidance from the health and educational organizations listed above.
* Dates are subject to change depending on the COVID-19 conditions in Gwinnett County at that time.
** Includes students who spend the majority of the day in a small-group setting:Severe/Moderate & Mild Autism; Severe/Profound, Moderate & Mild Intellectual Disabilities; Emotional-Behavioral Disabilities; ADAPT; GNETS; Visual Impairment; Moderate Visual Impairment; Orthopedic Impairment; Significant Developmentally Delayed; Specific Learning Disabilities (self-contained); Deaf/Hard of Hearing; Early Childhood Program (special needs pre-school).
School district leaders continue to hold discussions about how best to address the needs, as well as the concerns, of our students’ families and our employees. We understand that no plan will be universally popular with all stakeholders. But we are committed to doing what we believe is best for students in terms of their health, safety, and education. We ask for your patience, understanding, and cooperation in helping us achieve a positive, safe start to the new school year for Gwinnett’s children.