Cobb, Fulton County Schools to start school year online

Cobb County School District superintendent Chris Ragsdale.

Cobb County School District superintendent Chris Ragsdale.

Two of the state’s largest school districts announced plans Thursday to begin the school year virtually, conceding after months of planning for in-person learning that a recent spike in COVID-19 infections across the region makes that impossible.

At a third district — Marietta City Schools — Superintendent Grant Rivera said Thursday morning he would recommend starting the year virtually to his school board in a meeting on Friday.

Cobb County School District Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said Thursday during a board of education meeting that the year will start online when classes begin on Aug. 17.

Moments later, Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney also announced classes will begin Aug. 17 entirely online to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.

Both districts previously intended to give parents the option for either in-person or distance learning using online portals.

“I know we need to get back to face-to-face instruction,” Ragsdale said. “That is why we tried to offer parents two options — in-person and virtual — to start the school year. Unfortunately, public health guidance does not make that possible.”

Looney said his reopening strategy always was based on the numbers of community spread.

“Unfortunately, that data continues to move in the wrong direction,” Looney said. “Obviously, this decision comes with a heavy heart. I fervently believe students learn best when in front of their teacher.”

Previously, Atlanta Public Schools, Clayton County Public Schools and the DeKalb County School District announced plans for students to return fully online. District officials are monitoring metro Atlanta coronavirus numbers, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as other health experts.

Gwinnett County Public Schools, the state’s largest district, had a meeting scheduled Thursday. As of Thursday afternoon, district officials had not announced plans to forego in-person instruction.

On Thursday afternoon, the Douglas County School System also announced it will start the 2020-2021 school year with remote learning. In addition, the first day of classes is being delayed until August 17.

In a letter to Marietta families, Grant Rivera said the decision was motivated by updates from public health officials and medical experts advising the district’s decisions.

“I will provide more details tomorrow … regarding how we intend to best support our students and staff,” Rivera said, adding that “we will provide specific guidelines to all students and staff.”

Many districts across the region announced plans in recent weeks to delay the start of the school year in order to give themselves more time to prepare for challenges they could potentially face amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Alexis Stevens contributed to this report.