More than a month before the scheduled start for Fulton County Schools is too soon to decide if students must wear face masks or if the system needs to switch to universal remote learning, Superintendent Mike Looney said during a July 14 Board of Education meeting.

He also said the school district extended registration for individual remote learning enrollment for five days. The new deadline is July 22 at 5 p.m.

Fulton Schools Superintendent Mike Looney (Special)

The district is scheduled to begin classes Aug. 17.

Looney said he has received a lot of feedback about face masks. The district ordered enough to provide every student with two washable, reusable face masks.

“Whether given as a requirement to wear or as an option is still up in the air. At this juncture, I’m not prepared to say,” Looney said.

He said in the meeting that he understood what the science is saying and understands the benefits.

“Asking a 6-year-old to wear a mask is a different proposition,” Looney said.

“We’re prepared to go to universal remote [learning] if that is recommended. I’m prepared to make masks a requirement if necessary,” he said.

But he wasn’t prepared to give those instructions more than a month before school starts.

“I think the data is trending in the wrong direction. If it doesn’t improve, then we have a tough decision to make. I apologize in advance if that inconveniences employees or families,” he said.

Looney said he’s been consistent in saying the return to school depends completely on the level of the spread of the coronavirus in the district’s communities.

“Assuming we can go back, we obviously will go back in the safest manner possible,” he said.

“All is not going to be perfect. Whether we go to universal remote now, or on Aug. 3 when our teachers return… I’m committed to doing what is right for our school community,” Looney said.

“These are unprecedented times, times we hopefully will never experience again in our lifetime,” he said.

More than 8,542 students had registered for individual remote learning, a figure the superintendent expected to exceed 10,000 in a few days. The district will need as many as 300 virtual teachers. The administration has been recruiting and asking for volunteers from within the system.

The breakdown in remote-learning enrollment was 4,075 students in elementary; 2,252 in middle school; and 2,215 in high school.

Clifford Jones, the district’s chief academic officer, said having more students in remote learning creates more opportunities. The district will offer the Talented and Gifted program for students in individual remote learning. The TAG advanced content model will be available for middle and high school students.

Partners with the district and some students have begun helping work on extracurricular activities for students in remote learning. Jones told the students who are helping everything is on the table except for face-to-face meetings.

Jones said more counselors are back to work to help parents negotiate the best choice for their students. He said the counselors can help them with one question that’s hard for him to answer: How does this affect my child?

Student-to-teacher ratios will stay at the same.

“We are instituting random temperature checks of students in classrooms,” Chief Operations Officer Patrick Burke said.

The district is getting contactless thermometers from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and buying 500 more thermometers to screen students and visitors who want to enter the school, such as vendors delivering supplies.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.