Parents wait as Fulton weighs school closures after coronavirus case

An employee with the Fulton County School System has tested positive for coronavirus, officials said Monday.

In a sign of just how seriously officials are taking the threat of the spreading coronavirus, Fulton County opted to close all of its more than 100 schools Tuesday after a teacher was found to be infected.

That decision by Superintendent Mike Looney will leave 5% of the state’s 1.8 million students at home. The teacher, whom the superintendent did not identify, had contact with students at two middle schools in the county’s south side, Looney said.

This is the first closure of an entire school district in Georgia — the fourth largest behind Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb counties, and the largest governmental closure in the state thus far. The Fulton school system enrolls about 94,000 students, and employed about 10,500 full-time personnel last school year.

Fulton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney holds a press conference at the Fulton County Administrative Building on Monday, March 9, 2020, announcing school closures after a middle school teacher was found to have a confirmed case of coronavirus. 

The affected Fulton teacher has classes at both Bear Creek and Woodland middle schools. Those schools closed early Monday along with Creekside High, near Bear Creek, because the schools share staff and many families have students at both the middle and high schools. The closure also gives state health officials time to contact students and staff who interacted with the employee.

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The teacher felt ill Friday while at Bear Creek, and others at the school were concerned enough to call 911. Looney said he worked closely with health authorities in deciding on the closure and will consider their advice when deciding whether to remain closed beyond Tuesday, a day when the schools will undergo a deep cleaning. A decision should be announced by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

By then, Looney said, “we’ll have a better understanding of the risk factors that are in play.”

Students wait outside at Woodland Middle School in East Point, Monday, March 9, 2020. The Fulton County School system has decided to close schools on Tuesday after a teacher tested positive with the coronavirus. A decision on whether to keep the schools closed longer was expected Tuesday evening. 

Last week, two private Atlanta area home-school cooperatives closed after learning that a Fulton teenager who attended one of them in Cherokee County was infected. The boy’s father had returned home to Fulton from a trip to Italy and tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by this coronavirus.

The announcement last week that Georgia had its first infections intensified the situation within area schools. The school systems for Gwinnett, Fulton and DeKalb counties each activated a virus task force.

READ | Balancing act: Georgia schools navigate handling of coronavirus

More Georgia cases were announced over the weekend. On Monday, Atlanta Public Schools banned all out-of-state field trips, telling would-be travelers to seek refunds or credits. DeKalb schools also canceled out-of-state travel. Atlanta's field trips in Georgia are still permitted, but are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

03/09/2020 -- East Point, Georgia -- A Fulton County Public Schools employee (left) handles a bottle of commercial disinfectant in the parking lot at Woodland Middle School in East Point, Monday, March 9, 2020. The Fulton County School system has decided to close schools on Tuesday after a teacher tested positive with the coronavirus. The teacher was at Woodland Middle school on Friday. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

KIPP Metro Atlanta posted Monday night on Twitter that it was closing its 10 schools, which serve 4,600 students, Tuesday due to coronavirus "out of an abundance of caution." They promised more information by 6 p.m. Tuesday.

A Cobb County private daycare will voluntarily close Tuesday and Wednesday after a teacher tested positive for coronavirus, state officials said Monday night.

An employee of McGarity Elementary School in Hiram will be self-quarantined at home after coming in contact with someone with coronavirus, a letter sent to parents on Monday said.

The Fulton students will be taking the equivalent of a snow day. The district has an online learning protocol that will not be triggered unless students are out at least three days, Looney said.

But Deon Turner said he plans to keep his two Bear Creek students out for three days no matter what.

“I don’t think cleaning is going to happen in one day,” he said.

A student waits at the front entrance at Woodland Middle School in East Point, Monday, March 9, 2020. The Fulton County School system has decided to close schools on Tuesday after a teacher tested positive with the coronavirus. 

Turner said he was happy with the school district’s response, even after getting a hysterical phone call from his eighth-grade son Monday.

The 34-year-old metro Atlanta native is taking his children to the emergency room Tuesday to get them tested.

The hydraulic engineer said he and his wife will have to alternate days off until the kids go back. If that goes on too long, “with the bills and the car notes and the mortgage we have, that would definitely hurt,” he said.

FROM MONDAY | Confirmed and presumptive cases of virus in Georgia increases

MORE | Paulding school employee quarantined after contact with coronavirus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says school closure is a strategy to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Temporarily dismissing childcare programs and K-12 schools is a strategy to stop or slow the further spread of COVID-19 in communities,” the agency’s interim guidance for schools says.

The agency urges school officials to consult with local health officials and to keep them apprised of any changes in student absenteeism. Spikes should be reported, since they could suggest a rise in the number of illnesses.

“We have not seen any uptick in student absenteeism,” Looney said.

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Caye Watts of Johns Creek has two girls who will be home, one in middle school, the other in high school. Instead of studying, they’ll be having a coronavirus party with their friends.

“It’s not a terrible inconvenience,” Watts said. “Our biggest worry is about how long this will go on.” She is concerned that her girls will fall behind. Her eldest, a junior, is preparing to apply to college.

Watts understands the need for safety but wonders whether the school district overreacted with just one infected teacher. “One person,” she said, “and thousands of kids are out of school for a day.”

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