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Fulton to start upcoming school year entirely online due to COVID-19

Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney holds a press conference announcing school closures after a Bear Creek Middle School teacher had a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the Fulton County Schools Administrative Building on Monday, March 9, 2020. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney holds a press conference announcing school closures after a Bear Creek Middle School teacher had a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the Fulton County Schools Administrative Building on Monday, March 9, 2020. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney announced Thursday that classes will begin Aug. 17 entirely online to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

“Obviously this decision comes with a heavy heart,” Looney said. “I fervently believe students learn best when in front of their teacher.”

Cobb County Schools announced the same minutes before Looney did Thursday. Cobb posted from the district’s social media account: “Our district will be moving to full remote to begin the 2020-2021 school year. This decision is motivated by a commitment to keep our students and staff healthy and safe.”

Looney said his re-opening strategy has always been based on the numbers of community spread. “Unfortunately, that data continues to move in the wrong direction,” Looney said.

On June 29, the Fulton school board delayed the start of classes one week, from Aug. 10 to Aug. 17.

The Fulton school district is the fourth largest in Georgia, with more than 93,500 students. The county holds a tenth of Georgia’s population. Whether they have students or not, people have been interested in what the school district does because of the potential ripples. It presents a workforce issue because staff may be unable to return to work if they have to care for their child at home.

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Fulton was the first to shut down its school buildings because of COVID-19. Fulton schools shut down its buildings to students and staff “until further notice” starting March 13 and remained that way until the school year ended.

The district made the big decision quickly after two teachers were confirmed to have COVID-19.

The first teacher fainted in class at Bear Creek Middle School on Friday, March 6. The other teacher was last in class on Monday, March 9. Those cases prompted the district to close all of its more than 100 schools for two days and parents to do some last-minute juggling of schedules. After re-opening briefly, another employee got sick and then the district shut down buildings for good.

Fulton quickly bought laptops and formed a digital learning plan to keep students learning, but all admit it is no perfect replacement for in-person learning.

Kemp has banned cities and counties from adopting rules requiring masks