03/10/2020 — Fairburn, Georgia —The exterior of Creekside High School, located at 7405 Herndon Road, in Fairburn, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

School districts coping with building shutdowns one decision at a time

The plan was clear: school districts would shut their buildings, but try to continue offering students everything they needed while moving learning to digital models.

How to do that is where metro Atlanta districts are having different levels of success, with some changing course for some services just a week after the coronavirus forced school buildings shut.

“We don’t have it all figured out,” Ramona Tyson, the DeKalb County School District’s interim superintendent, admitted on March 13, the day after school districts announced they would close for at least a week.

From who still gets paid to figuring out which children need food and electronic devices, districts spent the last week constantly updating plans for how things will go for the next few weeks, or beyond.

Fulton County Schools announced Tuesday that Superintendent Mike Looney purchased about 3,000 additional devices using $1.5 million in Education-Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds designated for technology to make sure students have access during the school building shut down. Looney also discussed with the district’s school board how to go about delivering those devices, as well as meals as food distribution has become just as large a service as classroom lessons.

Strategies for feeding students have appeared to be where districts have pivoted the most.

Friday, many districts announced plans to pass out meals at some schools for a set number of hours, some each day and others a few days a week. Gwinnett County Schools’ elaborate plan included passing out meals at 68 schools and using school buses to deliver even more.

By Monday, the DeKalb County School District was increasing its meal pickup sites. Late Monday evening, Atlanta Public Schools announced meal deliveries by school bus, too. Tuesday, the DeKalb County School District announced it would begin meal deliveries, too, on March 23. DeKalb Schools also increased the number of meal pickup sites.

“During this unprecedented time, there may be more families in need than just those who receive free and reduced lunches,” Cobb County Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said in a press release on March 13 announcing a partnership with area nonprofit MUST Ministries to provide meals during the school building shutdown.

Even the plan for how long schools would close remains a moving target. Initially, all metro Atlanta school districts agreed to close their buildings for a week. A few days later, Gov. Brian Kemp got them to agree to close through March 31. Some districts have already said they intend to be out for at least a month, with spring break coming up in early April.

“Our remote learning options will continue as a critical way for students to stay engaged while they are away from school,” according to the March 17 Fulton County Schools “Coronavirus Update.”

Discussions are taking place now among some leaders to put plans in place if schoolhouses don’t open for the rest of the school year, scheduled to end in late May.

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