Fulton County School Board members Julia Bernath and Gail Dean heard parents’ concerns about COVID-19 and their children’s safety during a virtual community meeting held on Aug. 17.

The school district is using its FOCUS plan that includes extended instruction time, an assessment strategy, professional development and parental engagement to help students, Zone Superintendent Eric Hollinhead said.

Fulton County School Board members Gail Dean and Julia Bernath, who both represent parts of Sandy Springs, held a joint, virtual community meeting with community residents.

“We know some of them haven’t had face-to-face instruction in quite some time, we’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that they are up to speed,” he said.

The school system currently has 6,910 teachers and a total of 13,772 employees. FCS made 783 new hires this year, and staffing has reached 98 percent, he said.

“Our schools are back at capacity from having the remote option last year where some schools were 50 percent capacity. But we’re back this year, and we wanted to focus on relationships and routines and getting kids back into the spirit and the mode of school,” Hollinhead said.

Remote and maskless school options gain interest

Approximately 60 students have expressed interest in the proposed K-8 Learning Hub at the former Crabapple Middle School. The school district is offering the hub as mask optional for staff and for students with parental agreement. The learning hub needs enough students and teachers to express interest for it to become a reality at its scheduled Sept. 7 opening.

The school district will also offer a K-2 remote learning option. “We received a lot of inquiries about K-2 remote programs for the little ones, for our babies, and we made it happen,” Hollinhead said.

He said parents of approximately 400 students had expressed interest, so the school district plans to expand the program. The remote learning program requires parental involvement during instruction time. 

Both the K-8 Learning Hub and the K-2 remote learning programs are accepting applications online through Aug. 20.

Delta variant spike expected to level off

Superintendent Mike Looney talked about the rise of COVID-19 cases due to the spread of the Delta variant.

“We believe that this current spike is going to level off in early September, at the very latest middle of September, and then start going down pretty quickly. So I think the mitigation strategies that we’re currently using are temporary,” he said.

He said social distancing with all students in face-to-face instruction has been the biggest challenge. He asked for patience and for parents and students to do their part in mitigating the risk so the spread of COVID-19 slows down.

One parent asked what would lead to closing a school and switching to virtual learning.

Looney said the school district’s closing matrix developed last year remains in place. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. 

If only a few students or employees tested positive for COVID-19, but they had close interaction with hundreds of students and dozens of faculty, that might lead the Fulton County Board of Health and the FCS team to decide the school requires closing. But if five individuals tested positive who were all in different grade levels and the risk to the school population was minimal, the school could remain open, he said.

Looney said it takes some time to notify parents of potential exposures to the virus because the Fulton Board of Health must make the first determination when they receive reports. Contact tracing is performed, leading to several “mini-investigations” for every case before the contact letters are sent out.

“I would just encourage you to be patient, and if in doubt, then contact the school or try to keep your child at home until you know for sure,” he said.

Students in quarantine will get instruction through asynchronous lessons, which he said are lessons that students can complete on their own time, at their own pace. The school district also is paying for three hours of private tutoring.

The school district also continues to urge employees to get vaccinated.

“The good news is that an overwhelming number of our staff members have been fully vaccinated. We are seeing a surge in additional vaccinations in our employee group since the delta variant has made its presence more known,” Looney said.

He expects FCS will soon approach 90-plus percent of its employees being vaccinated.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.