FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Fulton County School Superintendent Mike Looney is sounding the alarm about an increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases and warning that if parents want their kids back in class this August, people need to do their part to slow the spread.
“We desperately want to go back to school on Aug. 10. We miss our students terribly,” Looney told Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik. “I recognize that we can’t put our families and our employees at risk if this data continues to grow and overwhelm us.”
Looney tweeted his concerns Thursday, imploring people to wear masks in public and to social distance.
“We’re gonna do everything we can as a district to have school, but in many ways, we are absolutely dependent on the community helping slow the spread of this virus so that we can have school,” he said.
[COUNTY-BY-COUNTY: Plans for returning to school this fall]
On Monday, the school board will vote on its intended plan, which could include starting with traditional in-person school, continuing virtual learning or a hybrid plan.
Looney said regardless of when in-person classes resume, parents in all grades will have the option to enroll their children in a virtual track for at least the first semester.
Looney said the community must be in a minimal to moderate the virus’s spread in order for it to be safe enough to reopen in person.
He said, even with minimal spread, positive cases in the classroom will be unavoidable.
“Until there’s a vaccine or until this virus leaves us, we’re going to have positive cases in school,” he said.
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Part of the county’s plan, Looney said, involves a closure matrix so that positive cases in one classroom or in one school won’t necessarily mean widespread closures.
“From a school level to a cluster of schools to an entire region within the district and ultimately to the entire district,” he said of the continuum of closures.
Petchenik spoke to a parent of three children, two in elementary and one in middle, who has concerns about sending her kids back with current conditions.
“I think that the most perfect thing would be to gear up for a school year of online learning to keep the children and the families and the teachers safe,” said Marcie, who asked Petchenik not to use her last name. “I think that would be the route to go because there are so many unknown variables at this time.”
Marcie said that if kids are back in the classroom, she expects more transparency from the district and from health officials about positive cases of COVID-19 after what she said happened at her child’s school in March.
“I found out that a teacher that taught my child had COVID-19 as well and she had actually had it while she was teaching the children,” she said.
Marcie said the district and the school never told her about it and that she only learned of it weeks later secondhand.
“I find that troubling,” she said. “It was a perfect opportunity for contact tracing.”
Looney told Petchenik when it comes to reporting cases to parents, the district’s hands are mostly tied.
“There are situations where you could potentially identify an employee or a student and that is federally protected, private information, so we can’t release that type of information without the parent or the individual’s consent,” he said, adding that it’s up to the Fulton County Health Department to notify people of possible exposures.