Fulton County Schools will start the 2020-2021 school year Aug. 17 with all students enrolled in remote learning because COVID-19 cases continue to surge, including among the coaches and student athletes in high school conditioning sessions.

“I’m asking you now to begin making preparations for your children to be at home beginning Aug. 17,” FCS Superintendent Mike Looney said in a livestream announcement on July 16.

Looney said that when he presented three options for the new school year to the school board on June 9, Fulton County reported 640 confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

“As of today, based on the latest report that I received this morning, we are at 1,069 active COVID cases per 100,000 citizens in Fulton County,” he said.

FCS has had problems with student athletes and coaches becoming infected. The Georgia High School Athletic Association allowed school districts to start conditioning exercise sessions on June 8, but FCS held off a week. Looney said FCS limited the groups to 20 people.

Despite that limit, the number of athletes and coaches contracting COVID-19 has risen so much “that I have a hard time visualizing if, with groups of 20 athletes we can’t safely get together and practice and condition, I’m not sure how we can foreseeably do school in a safe manner,” Looney said.

“With that being said, it’s my intent to announce today that on Aug. 17 Fulton County Schools will begin as scheduled, However, we will do so in a universal remote learning environment,” he said.

The school district will offer many opportunities for parents, students, FCS employees and the school board to learn what this means for them, Looney said.

“I fervently believe that students learn the best when they are in front of their teacher who cares for them who is able to connect with them on a personal level. That’s difficult to do in a remote learning environment,” he said. “But at the end of the day our first charge is to make sure that our students and staff members are safe.”

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.