Fulton County Schools to open in August with one-week delayed start


Fulton County Schools will give families the choice to either send their children to school or to learn online at home.

The district also will delay the start of the 2020-2021 school year. The board on Monday unanimously agreed to move the first day of school from Aug. 10 to Aug. 17. That will give teachers and staff more time to make preparations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Fulton school system is Georgia’s fourth largest school district, with more than 93,500 students. Parents have been closely watching the reopening decision after the coronavirus forced school buildings to close in mid-March.

Superintendent Mike Looney outlined his current thinking during Monday's board meeting. He said the district plans to open schools for in-person instruction but also allow students from first through 12th grades to enroll in full-time virtual instruction.

Prekindergarten and kindergarten classes will only be offered in an in-person setting.

“Everything that we are communicating today is our intent as of today, but it’s completely dependent on what the data says when it’s our turn to turn the first school bell on,” Looney said.

Online registration for the virtual model will be open Tuesday through July 17.

Initially, district officials had planned to require high school students who pick the online option to leave their school and enroll at one of the district’s two alternative high schools.

But on Monday, after hearing feedback from parents, officials said online students could remain enrolled at their high school and register for a program offered through one of the district’s alternative schools.

The district will provide devices and hot spots as needed to students choosing the online option.

Staff will be given two reusable masks and will be required to wear them. Students who ride the bus are expected to wear a face covering and will be strongly encouraged -- but not mandated -- to wear them in school.

Looney said the district will teach children why mask-wearing is important, and teachers will incentivize students to wear them.

”I believe that if we can get a penetration rate of above 70% of voluntary compliance that we will be doing very well by our school community, our employees and our students,” he said. “There are always going to be concerns about everybody being required to wear a mask for a myriad of reasons and so to that point I believe that we are better off influencing through the power of relationship than requiring.”

Classroom layouts will be modified, and desks will be spaced out. Changes will be made to lunch service and buses. Schools won’t hold large assemblies. Class changes will be staggered so that not everyone floods the hallway all at once.

The district will start the new year with a four-week unit called “Restart” to help students get back into the routine of face-to-face schooling, said Cliff Jones, chief academic officer.

Fulton County Schools was the first in Georgia to close schools in the spring after two teachers were confirmed to have COVID-19.

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

The district is planning additional meetings and recorded online sessions with administrators to answer questions and provide information about the start of the upcoming school year.