What Will School Look Like?
As eager as some parents may be for kids to return to school, it is tricky. From virtual classes to a modified schedule, schools are considering all of the options. Atlanta Parent asked schools how they’ll handle things this fall.
Opening Plans by School System
Atlanta Public Schools: virtual learning with a start date of Aug. 24
Bartow County School System: three proposals based on COVID spread with a start date of Aug. 5; distance learning enrollment through July 24
Buford City Schools: reopen with in-person classes on Aug. 12; enroll in digital learning was July 15
Cherokee County School District: choose between an in-person or digital model
Clayton County Public Schools: Aug. 10 reopening with virtual learning
Cobb County School District: remote learning starting on Aug. 17
Coweta County School System: traditional face-to-face or online instruction starting on Aug. 13; sign up was July 17
City Schools of Decatur: open on Aug. 17 with virtual learning
DeKalb County School District: remote learning with a start date of Aug. 17
Douglas County School System: remote instruction starting on Aug. 17
Fayette County Public Schools: 2020 start date has moved to Aug. 10; traditional, hybrid or virtual options; complete enrollment survey by July 22
Forsyth County Schools: open on Aug. 6 with face-to-face or virtual options; parents of K-5 sign up for virtual learning was July 14; 6-12 parents sign up by July 31
Fulton County Schools: remote learning with a start date of Aug. 17
Gainesville City Schools: in-person instruction with a start date of Aug. 17; virtual option available with sign up deadline of July 31
Gwinnett County Public Schools: virtual learning with a start date of Aug. 12
Hall County Schools: choose between in-person or virtual learning with an Aug. 12 start date; July 13 deadline
Henry County Schools: remote learning classes starting on Aug. 17
Marietta City Schools: virtual learning starting on Aug. 4
Paulding County School District: school will reopen on Aug. 3 in-person; online learning enrollment was July 13
Rockdale County Public Schools: virtual learning start date of Aug. 24
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.