Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney holds a press conference announcing school closures after a Bear Creek Middle School teacher had a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the Fulton County Schools Administrative Building on Monday, March 9, 2020. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Fulton plans for COVID-19 response when students return to classrooms

Fulton County Schools has given its firmest plan yet for how it will handle COVID-19 when in-person classes return for the 2020-21 school year.

Superintendent Mike Looney and his team created a matrix that uses the current risk of community spread and the number of students/staff infected in specific buildings to determine the district’s response.

Looney was the first superintendent, and the first large metro employer, to keep students and staff home starting when the pandemic became obvious. He shuttered buildings starting March 13.

“At the time, that was a really good decision. But we have learned that might not be necessary moving forward, so we want to be more strategic,” he said.

The new plan that Looney presented Thursday calls for only closing schools where the virus has been found, instead of all district buildings.


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The plan’s best case scenario: A school building will close for 24 hours if a single student/staff member has the virus and there are less than five cases per 100,000 people in the community. If buildings close, students must still do work from home as they did the last few months of this year.

Staff will choose to close schools based on the virus’ spread by cluster, zone, North/South or the entire district. So, as it was with the first two Fulton school cases in March, if the virus is worse on the Southside, then the district will just close those schools instead of shutting down all school buildings throughout the county.

The only instance in which the new plan calls for closing all buildings is if there are five or more students/staff in multiple areas and more than 100 cases per 100,000 people.

Looney, who has been on the job one year, said the plan is based on data and advice from health officials, but there are still so many considerations — like what if they find out a student is positive while everyone is still in class? He said in that case students will be asked to stay in their classrooms until it’s time to leave.

Any family who feels uncomfortable physically sending students to school may continue online instruction, Looney said.


READ | Fulton school board talks in-person classes next year, budget effects


He plans to announce on June 29 whether or not the district will re-open on its previously scheduled date of Aug. 10. Right now, the district is planning to have in-person classes, with the addition of many new distancing and safety measures.

“We’re going to continue to have positive cases develop in schools when we’re in a face-to-face model, and this is what our plan of action is when we address that,” he said.

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