Fulton County Schools: Keep Students & Staff SAFE with a VIRTUAL fall semester start

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Current Fulton County Statistics are as follows: 

  1. As of July 13th, 993 out of 100,000 people have the coronavirus. This is approximately 1% of all Fulton County residents (CDC).
  2. In Fulton County specifically, there is a 60% chance of a group of 25 containing at least one person that is COVID-19 positive (https://covid19risk.biosci.gatech.edu/).
  3. There has been a 22.8% increase in cases in the past week (Report from Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, 7/11). 
  4. 9.1% increase in hospitalizations  (Report from Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, 7/11).
  5. 3.2% increase in deaths (Report from Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, 7/11). 

Despite the rise in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, Fulton County Schools (FCS) is making an active choice to put students, staff, and their families at risk. They have released a plan to return to face-to-face instruction (with the option of virtual instruction for students) in the Fall 2020 semester. Current plans do not include any mention of how staff members with pre-existing conditions can teach safely or mandate the use of masks to mitigate the risk of the spread of coronavirus (masks are mandatory for staff, but not for students. This leaves both staff and students with over a 70% chance of getting the coronavirus if even ONE unmasked student is in the classroom). Additionally, there is no mention of how students with limited access to virtual tools (tablets, wifi, etc.), IEPs and 504 Plans, or other specialized needs will be accommodated if they do choose the virtual option.

On July 13th at 9:46 AM, FCS Superintendent Mike Looney tweeted on his professional twitter account: “Participated in a conference call with the Governor, State Supt., and Ga Dept of Public Health: Take aways: 1. Opening schools is critically important 2. Masks recommended - not required 3. The DPH is in charge of contract tracing 4. Don’t require everyone to be tested.”

On the same day at 3:07 PM, Dr. Looney emailed all FCS staff a link to the CDC recommendations of how schools must manage reopening in the fall. These recommendations stated: 

“The more people a student or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. The risk of COVID-19 spread increases in school settings as follows:

  • Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events.
  • More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities, and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).
  • Highest Risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.”

As of today, July 13, FCS has chosen to go back to school under the HIGHEST RISK framework. 

Furthermore, limited staff input has been taken in on these matters. On July 12, 2020 at 1:40 PM, Superintendent Looney sent a Sunday email referencing a link to the John Hopkins website about reopening policy tracking. Within the final paragraph of said email, he stated, “I woke up to another 100+ emails from a variety of stakeholders. It is impossible for me to offer a personal response to everyone. If you have a dire need for me to respond to you please indicate such in the subject line of the associated email.” The ability to connect and dialogue with district personnel is physically impossible, so teacher voices are in fact not being heard. We are not sitting at the decision table as personnel continue to make decisions behind closed Teams meetings and Board retreats and meetings. They present teachers as well as students, parents, and other staff members with the information they’ve decided with those higher up the educational food chain after the fact with the continued caveat of “there is time” and “there is no right or wrong answer to this impossible situation.” These choices impact the physical, mental, and emotional health of everyone their decisions impact, including teachers and their families, but there is no evidence to compel teachers that the district is taking these impacts into consideration as they make decisions. More information on the lack of teacher input and FCS’s take on not mandating masks can be found here. As teachers and human beings who care deeply for our students and our families, we should NOT be put in this situation of making, quite literally, LIFE OR DEATH decisions for ourselves, our students, and either of our families.

Superintendent Looney and Fulton County Schools Board of Education, we ask that you change your course of action to entirely virtual learning to begin this fall semester until it is truly safe for both students and staff to return (we ALL know this is not true right now, as can be seen by the numerous statistics that show an increase in coronavirus across the county). We ask that you spend this time in the summer making sure that all students have access to tablets/computer, WiFi, and any other tools that they need to accommodate their learning needs from the safety of their homes, rather than trying to convince them that they won’t get access to a quality education if they don’t risk their lives by coming to school. We ask that you give teachers adequate time to prepare for how to connect with their students virtually and how to engage them and provide them with the best quality education possible while also minimizing the risk to their health and that of their families. This is a GLOBAL pandemic that we are facing, and it is crucial now, more than ever, that we show our students and staff how much they matter and how we can come together to solve problems in a way that is beneficial to all within our community.