Clayton Schools look to virtual classroom as COVID-19 rates soar

Clayton Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley says parents increasingly prefer at-home instruction because of Georgia’s growing coronavirus infections.
Clayton Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley says parents increasingly prefer at-home instruction because of Georgia’s growing coronavirus infections.

Clayton County Schools will likely offer virtual-only classes in the new school year if Georgia’s coronavirus infection rates continue on their current trajectory, the district’s superintendent says.

An overwhelming majority of Clayton parents and district staff told the south metro Atlanta school system in a recent survey that they prefer at-home instruction over coming into school buildings if the spread of the virus continues to worsen, Superintendent Morcease Beasley said Tuesday.

"Right now, it appears that we are leaning towards a full virtual state on the first day of school," Beasley said during a YouTube live presentation.

A virtual-only school day is one of four options the district is considering as it lays out plans for the 2020-2021 school year, which begins Aug. 3.

The others are a traditional full-time classroom schedule for students inside school buildings; in-class instruction where half of the student body comes to school on Mondays and Wednesday while the other half attends on Tuesday and Thursday; and a blend where some students attend school in person and others take classes at home.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump pushed for schools to fully reopen in the fall. But many school officials, teachers and parents say they may not go that route due to a surge in the number of coronavirus cases in many parts of the country.

Georgia passed the 100,000 infections mark earlier this week and a number of cities, including Atlanta, East Point and Savannah, are requiring residents to wear masks to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Like Clayton, most metro school systems are planning attendance options for students. In addition, some school have pushed back the start date for classes. Fayette County's first day will be Aug. 10 instead of Aug. 3 as originally planned. Gwinnett County will begin Aug. 12 instead of Aug. 5.

Joyce Many, senior associate dean of undergraduate studies and educator preparation at Georgia State University, said districts are better prepared for the virtual classroom now than they were when COVID-19 closed schools in March.

“This is going to be a more planful virtual experience,” she said. “Our school systems have been working all summer considering what were the difficulties, what kind of professional development do we need to provide and what kind of structures do we need in place for this to be more successful.”

That look forward includes figuring out how to get laptops and internet access to those who don't have it. The district plans to lease about 38,000 Chromebooks, but doesn't expect to have all it needs by opening day, Beasley said.

He also acknowledged that virtual classrooms may cause problems for parents who work outside of the home. For those in that situation, he said, now is the time to develop a plan.

“I can’t fix the childcare situation if we start virtually,” he said. “No one can. You’ve got to have a plan.”

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