Gwinnett County Public Schools Unveils Plan To Return To In-Person Learning Soon

Gwinnett County Public Schools announced plans to return to in-person learning by the end of the month.

Mallory Falk / KERA

Gwinnett County Public Schools will resume classes remotely Aug. 12. The district announced Tuesday it will try to return to in-person learning by the end of the month.

The plan is to stagger face-to-face starts.

Kindergarten, first, sixth and ninth grades would return the week of Aug. 26. The next week, second, third, seventh, and 10th grades would also come back. All grades would return to schools after Labor Day.

The school district says the plan will depend on COVID-19 conditions in Gwinnett County at the time.

On a press call Tuesday, Marybeth Sexton, an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine and part of Emory University Hospital’s Serious Communicable Disease Unit, addressed concerns about reopening schools as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.

“Right now, the way it stands in a lot of our coronavirus hot spots, it would be incredibly difficult if not impossible to open school in a normal way that would also be safe,” Sexton said. “There [has] been a lot of talk about whether kids really spread coronavirus the same way that adults do. For older kids and teenagers, it really does appear that they can be just as contagious and just as likely to transmit.”

Sexton pointed to the YMCA camp in North Georgia where hundreds of campers and staff tested positive for COVID-19 as an example of how the virus can spread among kids. She said school districts should consider the level of community spread before deciding whether to resume in-person classes.

“If you have 10, or 15 or 20% of people who get tested in the community coming back positive, then you have to be worried that some percentage of the people who show up that first day of school are infected, and they may not know it yet,” she said. “They may not have symptoms. They may have very mild or unusual symptoms, but they’re certainly contagious based on everything we’re learning about COVID,”

The Gwinnett schools announced Monday that roughly 260 teachers didn’t report to work last week due to either testing positive for COVID-19 or being exposed to the virus. The district said the cases were a result of community spread.

“It does show you the problem about bringing a whole bunch of people who’ve been out in the community together in a small space because that could spread exponentially,” Sexton said. “However, if you’re going to have teachers report, there are safe ways to do that. It’s just a culture change.”

Sexton said teachers should do what schools would ask students to do: wear masks and keep a social distance.

She said for schools to resume in-person learning safely, they’ll need to enact new safety protocols.

“You want to keep kids as distanced as possible,” she said. “Outdoors is safer than indoors. And smaller numbers [are] safer than bigger numbers. There are a lot of things that we can do. None of them are perfect, and they’re all going to require careful planning.”

In addition to Gwinnett, Fulton County Schools plans to gradually resume in-person learning after Labor Day, depending on the level of spread of COVID-19 in the county at that time.