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Fayette County to decide soon between virtual, in-person classes

Fayette County Board of Education leaders may decide Friday whether to go to virtual-only classes at beginning of next academic year.
Fayette County Board of Education leaders may decide Friday whether to go to virtual-only classes at beginning of next academic year.

Fayette County Schools leaders said they may decide Friday whether the district will follow the rest of metro Atlanta and open the 2020-2021 academic year with virtual-only classes.

The south metro Atlanta community is considering three opening options when classes resume Aug. 10: a traditional in-person school day; a virtual-only schedule where all classes are held online and students learn at home; or a hybrid where some students enroll in online learning while others go to school buildings for a full day of instruction.

Joseph Barrow, the district’s superintendent, said coronavirus infections were low enough in early July that he thought Fayette students might be able to return to a traditional day of classes when the new year started. But as the month wore on, the infection rates intensified and he began thinking of the hybrid option.

Now, he said, the situation has hit the code red level, which would initiate a virtual-only school day. (The other code levels are green for traditional school day and yellow for hybrid).

“We got new information this morning from the department of health and it tells us that the number of cases in Fayette have increased and we are in what is known as substantial spread,” Barrow told Fayette Board of Education members at their meeting Monday night.

Some board members, however, questioned what constituted a “substantial spread” and said they wanted to know on what criteria health officials were making decisions. Without that, they worried if their choice would be sound.

“We have to act on data and we are not on any color right now because we don’t know,” school board members Brian Anderson said.

Parents, students and faculty seemed to be less indecisive. During public comments at the start of the meeting, an overwhelming majority said they wanted the district to begin the year with virtual-only classes.

India Gay, senior class president for the upcoming academic year at Fayette County High School, said her classmates support a virtual-only start for the school year because the risks of going back to brick-and-mortar classes are too great at this time. She said they are willing to sacrifice as much of the first semester of school as necessary if it means they can enjoy the second.

“There is no school system without healthy students, teachers and administration and faculty,” she told the board. “We ask that you all keep the well-being of this county and the interest of those departing in the spring at the forefront of any and all decisions.”

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