Approximately 60% of the students in the Fulton County School System were expected to be in classrooms starting Oct. 14 as face-to-face instruction resumed. The remaining students will stick with remote learning, the Fulton County Board of Education learned in its Oct. 13 work session.

Superintendent Mike Looney said the latest COVID-19 diagnosis data he saw before giving face-to-face instruction the go-ahead showed the average incident rate was 94.5 cases per 100,000 residents. The threshold set for face-to-face instruction was 100 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents.

Looney told the school board that a closure of all FCS facilities in March due to a teacher’s COVID-19 diagnosis would be handled differently today.

A teacher at Bear Creek and Woodland middle schools was confirmed as testing positive on March 9, leading the district to send those students and students at the nearby Creekside High School home early. The entire school district closed on March 10 for disinfecting, and remained closed for the rest of last school year.

“To be honest with you, we’ve learned so much that looking back, that wasn’t really necessary,” he said about the initial closures.

Current policy is to send home only the students and staff who had direct contact with someone who was confirmed as infected, escalating closures at individual schools based on Fulton County Board of Health advisories, contact tracing and any additional cases.

Looney said it’s important that students or staff members awaiting coronavirus test results don’t come to school until they get results. If the test results are positive, they must not report to school or work until they are cleared by a healthcare professional. Also, if they’ve been in direct contact within 6 feet of someone who has tested positive for 15 minutes or more, they need to stay away until they’ve been tested and cleared by a healthcare professional.

“If a staff member or a student is sick and they have flu-like symptoms, stay home, don’t risk your health or the health of others,” Looney said.

A reporting portal developed with the Board of Health enables parents to report their child’s positive test results or known exposure to someone who has the coronavirus. The report goes straight to the board of health for an investigation. The school district gets a weekly report on those investigations.

Teachers have had a continuing challenge in learning how to do their jobs during the pandemic, said Cliff Jones, FCS’s chief academic officer.

“As the COVID environment changes, so do their interactions with students, so do their interactions with their peers, so do their interactions with our communities,” he said. “It’s fundamentally and significantly changed the craft they love.”

The school district adjusted its grading policy to reflect remote learning. Teachers will use between nine and 12 summative assignments. These assignments – including quizzes, tests, papers, projects, portfolios and finals – will reflect how well a student has mastered a standard.

The attendance policy was adjusted. Teachers will mark student absences during daily live instruction for face-to-face and remote instruction. Tardies will not be reported for students in remote learning.

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Bob Pepalis

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