Cobb schools announce date to reopen classrooms

The Cobb County School District will begin its phased approach to reopen classrooms on Monday, Oct. 5. Credit: Pixabay

Credit: Pixabay

Credit: Pixabay

The Cobb County School District will begin its phased approach to reopen classrooms on Monday, Oct. 5. Credit: Pixabay

The Cobb County School District will begin reopening classrooms for in-person learning next month — a decision the superintendent said was based on improving coronavirus statistics.

The district announced Thursday that kindergarten through fifth-grade students will be the first to return on Monday, Oct. 5. Special education classes for kindergarten through 12th grade will also have an in-person option in the first phase of the reopening. When classes resume, after-school programs for those students will also be offered.

Students and staff will be required to wear masks on buses and in buildings, including when they are in classes, and educators will have to wear them whenever possible while teaching, Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said Thursday in a video message.

Starting at 8 a.m. Sept. 7, parents can indicate if they want their child to return to the classroom or to continue with remote learning through the system’s ParentVue portal. That opportunity will close at midnight on Sept. 20.

The Cobb County School District, the second-largest system in the state with 113,000 students, began the 2020-21 school year virtually on Aug. 17 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The district originally planned to offer both in-person and virtual learning options for students this fall, but decided to offer only remote learning after seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases.

The Cobb school district was considering three parameters surrounding the spread of coronavirus to determine when it was safe for the system to reopen classrooms: the reduction of community spread, effective contact tracing protocol and timely results from coronavirus tests.

Those three indicators have “have all been trending and continue to trend in the right direction,” Ragsdale said. “I trust that everyone will continue to do everything we can to keep the numbers moving in the right direction.”

Ragsdale said students who choose to return to classes in October will receive in-person learning Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be reserved for individual or small-group support using the remote option and for cleaning and disinfecting buildings.

Phase two, which will bring back sixth- through eighth-grade students, has a tentative start date of Monday, Oct. 19. Ninth- through 12th-grade students are set to return Thursday, Nov. 5.

Cobb parents who have been pressing the district to put a date on its reopening plan were happy to hear Ragsdale’s announcement. Greg Tuttle said he’s pleased that the district will allow students to benefit from in-person learning. While he said current conditions could allow students to return to the classroom “now,” Tuttle added he understands the month-long gap will allow parents, teachers and schools to prepare.

Amy Henry, another parent who has been critical of the district not providing a date for reopening, said she wants Ragsdale to allow special needs students to return to the classroom during the second week of September because they “have been impacted the most with virtual schooling.”

“We have thousands of parents that are willing to volunteer time, talent and treasure to get all our schools open in September,” she said. “We are willing to clean schools, buy PPE (personal protective equipment), help teachers and principals get the schools ready – bring back the sense of community each school has between parents, teachers and staff.”

Board member Randy Scamihorn said he thought the plan was a first step in “getting us back to some kind of normalcy.” Board chairman Brad Wheeler said Ragsdale’s announcement was good news for the district. He stressed that the reopening date does not take away the option for parents to continue with virtual learning.

Cobb school board member Dr. Jaha Howard said while he is encouraged by the drop in COVID-19 numbers, he is apprehensive because the start date follows the district’s fall break.

“That is highly concerning, knowing what happened in Cobb after the Fourth of July break,” he said, referring to the spike in COVID-19 cases reported in mid-July.

He also said there are still thousands of Cobb students who are without digital learning devices. He also said the district should consider bringing some special needs students back to the classroom before Oct. 5.

As of Thursday, Cobb County had 17,375 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 397 deaths and 1,610 hospitalizations, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. In the last two weeks, the cases per 100,000 people was 234. Ragsdale has said the district would begin considering reopening classroom when the cases per 100,000 dropped to around 200.

Cobb & Douglas Public Health District Director Dr. Janet Memark has previously said anything more than 100 cases per 100,000 is considered a high rate of community spread.

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