Fulton schools administrators say return to in-person learning has gone well

(File photo)
(File photo)

Nearly two weeks after all Fulton County public school students were invited to physically return to brick-and-mortar classrooms, administrators say things have gone well — and they’ve learned a lot about teaching in the age of coronavirus.

Across the district, about 60 percent of the district’s 95,000 students are back in classrooms since buildings reopened Oct. 14, according to Cliff Jones, the district’s head of academics.

It hasn’t always been a smooth ride.

The district temporarily closed Banneker High School near Union City two days after re-opening and then shut down Cambridge High School in Milton for three days of cleaning.

But Jones and school board president Julia Bernath said last week that overall they are pleased with the return.

“The buildings seem back alive,” Jones said.

“The families that are back in school are very happy to be there,” Bernath said.

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The district on March 13 became the first in metro Atlanta to stop live instruction as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The percentages of kids physically returning to classrooms don’t hold across the board. More high schoolers have elected to learn online than return, and Jones added that the highest rates of face-to-face learning are seen in the Roswell/Alpharetta area.

He said they’re keeping a close eye on all of these variables as instruction moves forward with new safety measures in place.

Jones talked about his recent visit to a chorus classroom as an example: The teacher was at a piano, students were socially distanced in their rows around the room, and a projector displayed students at home on a screen.

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Bernath said it is important that each principal have the autonomy to assign teachers as they see fit — some are teaching in hybrid classrooms, and others are only teaching children online.

At Summit Hill Elementary in Milton, Jones said he walked past a “Remote teaching going on here” sign and into a classroom where an instructor was sitting alone in front of a ring light and a document camera. The teacher was having second-graders perform guided reading and vocabulary work.

The district has had a while to hone this system because they’ve been bringing students back from digital learning with guidance from health officials since Sept. 8 — starting with pre-Kindergarten through second-graders. That eventually became one day a week of instruction for all students, then two days a week.

“It’s like we’ve had five openings,” Jones said.

During the first phase of re-opening, some teachers walked out during their lunch breaks in protest because they felt bringing back students was unsafe.

Fulton County Schools teachers and children protest the district's plan of returning to face-to-face instruction with a walkout during lunch on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.
Fulton County Schools teachers and children protest the district's plan of returning to face-to-face instruction with a walkout during lunch on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.

Credit: Provided by Brett Edeker

Credit: Provided by Brett Edeker

Jones said Thursday that most teachers feel it is now safe to physically return to classrooms.

The full return has also resulted in an entirely new arrival/dismissal process, because so many more students are coming and going in cars instead of buses.

Attendance for digital and in-person instruction is in the low 90% range, Jones said. They are actively reaching out to students who aren’t logging on or showing up.

Jones and Bernath both said they are ready for wherever this virus takes the district next.

“The challenges, no matter what they might be, I know ... the Fulton County team will press on and accept those challenges," Jones said.

A Reuters analysis of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has found an alarming acceleration.

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