FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Fulton County Schools announced Thursday that the school year will start 100% remotely on August 17.
Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney announced the decision that school would return in a “universal remote learning environment” during a virtual meeting.
“I have been very clear all along that the reopening was predicated on the level of community spread,” Looney said. “Unfortunately, that data continues to move in the wrong direction.”
Looney said he believes students learn best when in the classroom and that he made the decision with a heavy heart.
“I fervently believe that students learn best when they’re in front of their teacher who cares for them, who is able to connect with them on a personal level,” Looney said. “That’s difficult to do in a remote learning environment. But, at the end of the day, our first charge is to make sure our students and staff are safe.”
Looney cited the latest public health numbers in Fulton County, which reveals a higher number of cases per 100,000 people than in June, when Looney announced three potential options for going back to school.
He also said that watching the spread of the coronavirus to student athletes and coaches during conditioning opened his eyes to how quickly the virus can spread and that having kids in class would not be safe.
A school official told Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik that 11,000 students had already signed up for the virtual option.
It’s unclear how long the school year will remain virtual, but Looney told Petchenik that the plan was “long-term.”
“I’m resolute in making sure that when we return to school, our students and staff can do it in a safe manor,” Looney said.
Petchenik talked to parents from North and South Fulton counties to get their feedback.
“There was no good solution,” parent Kay Draper Hutchinson said, “It’s not the fault of our schools. It’s the fault of our community.”
Franchesca Warren agreed. She had already opted for the individual remote option for her child.
“People are out without masks, acting like COVID is not a reality,” Warren said. “I think it depends on the behavior of Georgians. Based on that behavior, they may be virtual for a long time.”
Ruth Hartman has two kids in the district and runs a popular Facebook group for parents.
“The parents, as you can figure, are split,” Hartman said. “Some are very happy about the remote learning and others are questioning what they’re going to do with their kids, because they are either hourly workers and can’t afford to quit or essential workers.”
In the district’s previous plan, some students would have had to study with teachers at schools other than their own. Parent Kevin Grimes said he hopes going virtual would allow his kids to keep working with their own teachers.
“I think having your home teachers is important to help calm the anxiety, and to also help keep that sense of community,” Warren said.
The district said they’ll work through a lot of details on the plans -- including whether students can stay with their home teachers -- at a virtual board meeting next Thursday.
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