The Fulton County Board of Education approved a framework for three different plans for students returning to school in August during its June 9 meeting.
The plans range from all students, teachers and staff returning to in-person classes; a mix of in-person and remote learning; and resumption of universal remote learning much like the last few months of the past school year.
Superintendent Mike Looney said staff members are operating under the assumption that they will return to face-to-face instruction for the next school year. But if public health guidelines don’t allow it, the district will be prepared, he said.
Looney said he wants parents to wait at least until after June 29 to enroll their students to give the system time to act on the latest health department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
Areas where the school system needs to improve were identified by educators and parents during school closures. They include: Identifying student learning gaps and adjusting practices to address needs; targeting social and emotional supports for students; and reducing the number of applications used by students and families.
Ryan Moore, executive director of strategic planning, presented the three plan options or “scenarios.”
Scenario One: Face-to-Face
Scenario One would have all students and staff report to classrooms with modified social distancing and cleaning practices.
“We will follow the CDC’s guidelines. We will not require masks if they are not required,” Looney said, but mask-wearing would be accommodated.
“If we do come back in a face-to-face mode, we are going to issue social distancing guidelines for all of our facilities,” Moore said.
The district would limit the size, frequency and duration of groups getting together.
“We are going to have to limit visitors into our buildings. We really need to take a look at who’s coming into our buildings as we work to keep people safe,” Moore said of operations under that scenario.
Scenario Two: Universal Remote Learning
Scenario Two keeps remote learning and working in place in the case of a recurrence or resurgence of COVID-19.
The district learned from staff that it needs to provide more guidance and professional development for remote learning. Strong and clear expectations must be put in place, including for grading policies.
Limited Wi-Fi hotspots may need to be provided based on student needs as not all students have access to the technology necessary for remote learning.
“We have different levels of student participation and activity,” Moore said. “We want to make sure all of our students are learning regardless of the scenario.”
To improve remote learning, Moore said, the school system must require teachers to post plans that students can review during the week to know exactly what they should be doing.
A bank of pre-recorded lessons would enable master teachers to instruct other teachers on remote learning, Moore said.
To serve younger students, more learning packets must be delivered.
“We don’t really have a good solution for kindergarten students,” Looney said.
Developmentally, students at that age are not expected to be proficient with a laptop for learning. The school system will have to work with parents on how best to serve them.
When asked about the district’s 85 pre-K classes by board member Gail Dean, Looney said funds for those pre-K classes may be cut by the state with its current plan to cut all agency budgets by 14%. Even if funds are available, remote learning poses a problem.
“If we can’t return to face-to-face, there is not a viable way to provide for those children,” Looney said.
Scenario Three: Blended
Scenario Three would use a blended method that includes face-to-face instruction for limited numbers of students at a time. Half the students would attend class, while the other students would continue remote learning at home, rotating that schedule so everyone gets in-person instruction. The school system would work to match schedules of siblings to reduce the strain on parents in setting their own schedules.
Students with documented health concerns would stay at home, with instruction provided online.