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Atlanta Public Schools to start year with virtual learning

APS on Friday announced two more coronavirus cases within the district, bringing the total number to three.
APS on Friday announced two more coronavirus cases within the district, bringing the total number to three.

Atlanta students will begin the school year with virtual instruction, according to a plan released Friday.

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring will present the reopening strategy to the school board at a 5 p.m. Monday meeting. It calls for APS to do virtual learning for at least the first nine weeks of the school year, or until there is a minimal or moderate spread of coronavirus.

Herring, who became APS superintendent on July 1, also will ask the board to delay the start of the school year by two weeks — from Aug. 10 to Aug. 24. That will give teachers and staff more time to prepare, and give parents time to pick up needed supplies from schools.

The district would use those weeks to connect with families, assess where students are academically and provide social and emotional support services, among other activities.

“APS will implement a virtual instruction model for students where they remain enrolled at and receive instruction from teachers at their school. While similar to last spring, the model offers key improvements focused on greater connections, engagement and best practices for distance learning,” the document states.

The school board has to approve the proposed calendar change.

Changing the start date would mean students would receive 170 days of instruction during the 2020-2021 school year, instead of the usual 180 days.

The decision to start the year online, instead of having students attend class in-person, is based on current public health data amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to district documents.

APS is among the first metro Atlanta districts to announce a fully virtual operating model, though education officials have said they are monitoring the public health data and will continue to do so.

Fulton County Schools announced late last month that it intends to offer families the choice between in-person and online classes. The Fulton school board also postponed the start date to Aug. 17 to give staff more time to prepare.

Cobb and Gwinnett school districts also plan to offer families a choice between digital learning or in-person instruction.

APS plans to make sure all students and staff have computers and Internet access. The district also will begin distributing school meals on Aug. 10.

Atlanta school buildings closed in mid-March because of the pandemic, and students finished the school year with online learning to mixed reviews from parents.

On Friday, the Atlanta Council of PTAs recommended the district delay the start of the school year and also urged APS to focus on digital learning. In a written statement, the council said that the district’s many low-income families are concerned about the health of grandparents who serve as caregivers and the cost of healthcare should someone in the family get sick.

“Starting the school year off (with) distance learning is safer and less traumatic for students, teachers, and caregivers. Operating under the false assumption that it is safe to open school buildings knowing that the virus is spreading rapidly throughout the city sets up a situation where the schools will likely have to abruptly shut down again,” said a written statement from the PTA group.