What Will School Look Like?
This school year kicked off with hybrid, virtual and in-person learning. Many schools are planning to transition back to in-person learning later this fall. Find their reopening plans below.
Opening Plans by School System
Atlanta Public Schools: current plan allows some students back in the classroom on Oct. 26
Bartow County School System: distance learners can opt-in to transition back to the classroom from Sept. 28-30, Dec. 7-9 and March 1-3
Buford City Schools: reopened with in-person classes on Aug. 12
Cherokee County School District: virtual elementary school learners committed through Oct. 9; middle and high school learners committed through Dec. 18
Clayton County Public Schools: reopened Aug. 10 with virtual learning; will continue with virtual learning for now
Cobb County School District: all PreK-5th graders and PreK-12th graders special education low incidence students will have the option to return in-person on Oct. 5
Coweta County School System: students were able to resume face-to-face learning on Sept. 8
City Schools of Decatur: select students will return to in-person learning starting on Oct. 12, with all students in the classroom by Nov. 2
DeKalb County School District: on Oct. 15, hybrid instruction begins for 2nd, 6th and 9th graders; on Oct. 19, hybrid instruction begins for the rest of the students
Douglas County School System: students who signed up for School-Based Digital Learning are still learning from home; all students returned to a hybrid model on Sept. 21
Fayette County Public Schools: students will gradually return for face-to-face instruction until the hybrid model is phased out by Oct. 26; full-time virtual students will continue their classes
Forsyth County Schools: elementary school students committed to virtual learning for the first nine weeks; middle and high school students committed to virtual learning for the first semester
Fulton County Schools: phasing in face-to-face instruction with an Oct. 14 start date for all students
Gainesville City Schools: students began returning to face-to-face instruction on Sept. 8
Gwinnett County Public Schools: students were able to return to in-person learning on Sept. 9
Hall County Schools: students returned to in-person learning the week of Sept. 7
Henry County Schools: phasing in face-to-face instruction began on Sept. 14
Marietta City Schools: transition to in-person learning beginning Oct. 26
Paulding County School District: hybrid instruction for several middle and high schools began Sept. 10
Rockdale County Public Schools: schools will be fully virtual for the fall 2020 semester
The Georgia Department of Education and the Georgia Department of Public Health released “Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools” with guidelines focused on the health and physical requirements for reopening school buildings. These measures include prioritizing safety, being realistic in the K-12 setting, adapting to multiple scenarios, protecting the vulnerable, practicing prevention and transporting students with detailed guidance on entering school buildings, serving meals, transitioning between classes and spaces within the school and more.
Many schools are still in the planning phase for how they’re going to implement changes to this school year, but they are looking at guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Georgia Department of Public Health and other agencies to work through their plans and will likely make final decisions by mid-July.
Atlanta Parent talked to Fulton County Schools’ Chief Academic Officer Cliff Jones to understand Fulton’s plans for going back to school. They plan to resume school on August 10 with three possible ways for students and teachers to return. The first would be a traditional face-to-face format with new expectations for social distancing, hygienic practices, employees wearing masks and other safety measures. The second would be universal remote learning. The third option is a blended model, which would incorporate both face-to-face and universal learning on a 10-day cycle.
“We’re planning for those three scenarios,” says Jones. “Our work groups are thinking through what school would look like, bell schedules to recess to lockers, so that no matter which way we’re coming back, we’re going to be able to hit the ground running with details.”
Work groups are planning the implementation of new policies based on the different scenarios. This could mean a grab and go lunch where students eat in the classroom, limiting the use of lockers, staggering class changes and having different entrances for walkers, car riders and bus riders at arrival and dismissal.
For this school year, Fulton County plans to offer individual remote and virtual school for students in grades 1 to12, so that students with health conditions or who have family members with health conditions have a safe option for schooling.
“We recognize that there is an unknown,” Jones says. “We’re trying to provide clarity for what the experience will look like. Parents are making their decision based on their most prized commodity, their child, so we’re committed to getting our information out in a timely manner for people who do have questions.”
Superintendent Mike Looney and his team have created a matrix based on community spread, which will close the schools where the virus has been found, instead of closing all district buildings, if the county decides to reopen schools in the fall. Fulton plans to announce their implementation strategy on June 29 at the Board’s Special Called meeting.
What About Private Schools?
Private schools are also re-thinking their plans for the upcoming school year. Mt. Bethel Christian Academy in Marietta is returning to in-person learning five days a week on August 6. The school received positive feedback from parents who supported a return to the classroom, and a Healthcare Task Force of medical professionals and an emergency-preparedness expert helped the school decide how to implement suggestions from the CDC and local health officials.
For this year’s academic calendar, the school decided to follow the lead of universities. “We have modified our calendar to minimize travel for our families,” says Alison Stephens, Director of Development and Director of Communication. “Our week-long September break has been removed from the 2020-21 calendar, and the week-long Thanksgiving break has been shortened. As a result, faculty, staff, students and their families will enjoy an extra-long Christmas break. This allows us to complete one full semester of uninterrupted in-person learning in a short period of time.”
Other changes may include a hot and cold lunch option provided to students in their classrooms, streaming chapel services to the classrooms and using carpool services for drop-off and pick-up for students.
Mill Springs Academy in Alpharetta have several different plans. The first is e-learning, and with parent and teacher surveys over the summer, the school has been able to improve their virtual learning practices, and teachers are getting their Google Level 1 certification, according to Emily Koehl, the Director of Marketing and Communications.
The second phase is opening the school with heightened restrictions, including a blend of in-person and virtual learning, so the school can close for deep cleanings. The third phase is opening with limited restrictions, which would allow for more traditional practices, although there would still be health and hygiene safety measures in place.
“The academy is combining the Lower and Middle Schools under one umbrella, and the PreUpper, Communication Arts and Upper Schools under another umbrella to improve overall organizational structure,” Koehl says. “The result has also allowed the school to create circles of contact that minimize exposure to the broader community should we experience aCOVID-19 outbreak.”
School changes also include limiting or canceling events, implementing staggered lunches in two different community rooms and increasing hygienic and cleaning practices. Students or families who are not comfortable with going back on campus will be allowed to choose e-learning.
During this time, childcare and pre-kindergarten programs have been allowed to stay open. The CDC’s guidance for open childcare programs include social distancing strategies, parent drop-off and pick-up, screening children upon arrival, healthy hand hygiene behavior and more.
The Suzuki School, a preschool with three locations, reopened on June 1. The school is operating under revised procedures, which include social distancing, enhanced disinfecting procedures, limiting access to the school, closing staff break rooms, limiting outdoor time to one classroom at a time, reducing classroom sizes and more.
“We started with a slow open –welcoming back families who felt comfortable returning and offering them the opportunity to return in June or July,” says Patrick Stephens, Director of Communications and Marketing. “We restructured our drop-off and pick-up strategies and redefined our open hours. This strategy focuses on subsets of classrooms, so that each drop-off or pick-up can be tailored to the children’s needs. Because we deal with very young children, we needed to make sure their safety and wellbeing was our top priority. While the school was closed, we upgraded each facility with more sanitizing stations, installed Global Plasma Ionization air purifiers to reduce pathogens in the air and amplified our cleaning protocols.”
The school spoke with parents often to foster communication about these plans, and they encourage parents to work with children at home to practice health and hygiene.