A day after students returned to classrooms virtually, Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney told the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 18 that the district is on track to begin its phased return to the classrooms on Sept. 8.

The day was not without some setbacks, however.

“Unfortunately, we have had to close down an entire football program as of last night,” Looney said.

An athlete at Cambridge High School in Milton reported for practice after having been sick, Looney said. His parents thought he just had a sinus infection, but when he went to the doctor they found out it was COVID-19. As the football program had started close contact drills, the Fulton Board of Health told FCS to shut it down.

Looney, speaking with the chamber in its “Back to School Virtual Brunch,” said the goal of the Fulton Board of Education and staff is a return to face-to-face instruction.

Teachers and staff already are working at schools.

“We are one of a few districts in the state and region that are requiring all of our employees to report back to their physical workspace,” Looney said.

He said teachers and staff must be retrained to understand how to interact face-to-face, but with social distancing. And they need to practice hygiene standards required with COVID-019.

Some students already are at school, though they still participate in remote learning.

“Our teachers and employees are able to bring their school-age children to the workplace with them so they can try to find a balance at being at work and taking care of their families,” Looney said.

Students in pre-K through second grade would be the first to return to school after Labor Day. They will attend a single, 90-minute face-to-face session with their teachers one day per week, as long as the downward trend of new coronavirus cases continues in Fulton County, Looney said.  Special Education students will attend a 180-minute session once a week, Looney said.

School buses will transport students to schools on their normal routes, though fewer of them will be on board, he said.

The second phase of face-to-face schooling would bring everyone who is healthy back for a half-day per week, if the rate of new COVID-19 cases falls below 175 per 100,000 people in Fulton County. That bumps up to a full day per week when the rate drops below 150 new cases per 100,000. Once the new case rate drops to 125 per 100,000, students would attend face-to-face classes two days per week, split between Monday and Friday, and Tuesday and Thursday. Looney said Wednesdays would be used to clean the schools.

When the reporting drops to 100 cases per 100,000 in Fulton County, students would return to face-to-faces classes five days per week. Virtual remote learning would be available for students with health issues and for those whose parents are concerned about their safety. That online instruction will be through the student’s local school.

Looney said the school district does not plan to shut down an entire school campus if a reported positive case of the coronavirus is made for a student or staff member. Contract tracing would determine who had at least 15 minutes of sustained contact with the infected person. Those people would be required to self-quarantine as well. Anyone who had a more limited contact with the infected person would be asked to monitor their health.

The school district is working on plans to enable a return to the classrooms for individual school communities if new cases drop significantly even if other areas of the county don’t. But, Looney said, if that is accomplished, it would not include bus service as routes work on a district-wide routing and scheduling plan.

More information about the school district’s back to school plans can be found online at https://www.fultonschools.org/backtoschool.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.