Education

Despite Leading in Covid Infections, Gwinnett Plans To Offer In-Person Classes This Fall

At a school board meeting Thursday most school board members agreed with the plan to re-open schools for in-person learning.
At a school board meeting Thursday most school board members agreed with the plan to re-open schools for in-person learning.
Credit Martha Dalton / WABE

Georgia’s largest school district is sticking with a plan to re-open schools in person with a virtual option for families who want it.

At a school board meeting Thursday most school board members agreed with the plan, even though Gwinnett has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the state. District officials said 60% of families who responded to a survey opted for face-to-face learning when classes resume Aug. 12. Forty percent chose to begin the year remotely.

At Thursday’s meeting, Everton Blair was the only board member who didn’t agree the district should engage in face-to-face instruction yet.

“I’m sorry…I’ve been trying to respect the authority of our collective and recognize the complexity of this issue, and I cannot understand how we can lead in the number of cases in this state and not choose to do something else right now,” Blair said.

Communities of color have been hit hardest by COVID-19 infections. The majority of Gwinnett County students are Black or Latino. Blair is currently the only Gwinnett school board member of color.

Other board members expressed support for in-person learning on Thursday, citing concerns about students’ mental and emotional health.

“I want to just remind people, there’s risks on both sides,” said Steve Knudsen. “Director Redfield, of the CDC, as a public health leader and grandfather, I believe, has said that having schools closed due to COVID-19 is a greater health threat to children than having schools re-open.”

School board vice-chair Carole Boyce said she’s concerned about students who depend on school for some services.

“I feel very strongly that we should go ahead and get back to school as quickly as we can and deal with the repercussions perhaps,” she said. “Obviously somebody may get sick, and we may have to deal with that.”

District officials presented details of the re-opening plan to the board Thursday. They said schools will implement new safety measures, like requiring masks and social distancing and setting up hand sanitizer stations in schools. To ensure students who opt to learn remotely have access to digital devices and the internet, the school board approved spending requests of more than $1 million for Google Chromebooks and almost $4 million for mobile hotspots.

So far, Clayton, DeKalb, Cobb, Fulton counties, Atlanta Public Schools, City of Marietta Schools, and the City Schools of Decatur have all decided to start the school year remotely.

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