Another 500 students can enroll in Fulton Academy of Virtual Excellence (FAVE) scheduled to open for the upcoming academic year as officials recognize parents remain concerned about COVID-19.

Superintendent Mike Looney said the Fulton County school district realized that they needed to expand the availability of seats at the virtual school.

Most students in Fulton County Schools will be back in classrooms at their schools with masks no longer required, with classes and afterschool activities looking more like they did in this photo from 2019 at Lake Forest Elementary. (File photo)

“I have given the board notice that we plan to expand the virtual school seats by 500, so a total of 1,500 students could potentially attend Fulton Virtual Academy, and Principal Vu will be accommodating those families that contact him,” Looney said during the July 22 Fulton School Board meeting.

The school system’s default enrollment is for face-to-face instruction. All health safety protocols that were in place for the previous school year will be followed when schools open to students on Aug. 9, except for mask requirements. Only students and staff on school buses will be required to wear masks, though masks are encouraged for anyone who remains unvaccinated.

Looney said the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus represents an increasing threat of sickness. He said in Fulton County, the data is low compared to where the school district has been in the past.

The school district has learned to manage and mitigate the risk as much as possible, he said. That was based the local level of spread of COVID-19 and experiences in summer school with 12,000 students in buildings with no mask requirements without having to close a single classroom or school.

“But I want our parents or our community to know that we’ll be the first ones to make adjustments if the data wants us to do that,” Looney said.

The school district will mandate COVID reporting, Ron Wade, FCS chief talent officer, said. All staff and students must report for three main reasons:

1.      A positive COVID test in the past 15 days;

2.      Pending test results;

3.      Direct contact with a COVID positive person.

Instead of emailing a report, an online reporting portal was created, he said.

“We have a COVID response team that we will be deploying to investigate [cases], and we’re just going to ask all stakeholders to make sure they cooperate and be truthful in answering the nurses,” Wade said.

Employees are being asked about their vaccination status, which will be kept private by the human resources department.

More than 9,500 of the school district’s approximately 14,000 employees completed a vaccination survey, with 81% of those responding reporting that they were vaccinated, Wade said.

Chief Academic Officer Cliff Jones said during the upcoming academic year, any students who are required to quarantine will get support. Asynchronous instruction will be provided, teachers will communicate regularly, and students will be provided a block of three tutoring hours with a third-party partner. They also will be invited to participate in extended-day activities.

Looney said the school district will use its established closing matrix if necessary, starting with quarantine of a classroom, then a grade level if necessary, and as the last resort, pivoting to remote learning for the entire district.

“If we have an outbreak at a school or there’s a significant level of outbreak in a specific community, it may very well be that a school within a community is asked to begin using masks where other schools in the community don’t have to because the level of spread is different,” he said.

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