FULTON COUNTY, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — Nearly a week after Fulton County Schools closed all of its schools to combat the spread of the coronavirus, school board members discussed safety and security measures in a virtual special-called meeting on March 17, 2020. Board President Julia Bernath opened the floor to questions from board members and responses from Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney and other school officials.
This comes after Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to close all schools through the end of March. Looney said the closure could extend into April.
FCS was the first school district in the Atlanta area to close amid coronavirus concerns, but Looney said there are currently no plans to cancel their spring break, which is the week of April 6-10.
“I think it’s important for everybody to know that the board nor I have any intentions of cancelling spring break. Frankly, everybody will need that time to take a break and recover from the stress associated with the event that we’re dealing with now,” he said.
Looney notified the board that he authorized the purchase of an additional 3,000 computers for the schools that need them for grades 3-12. He said the cost is approximately $1.5 million and covered by the current school budget. Looney said the computers are expected to arrive this week. He also said they are still in the process of distributing the several hundred, possibly thousands, they currently have to students, and plan to do so on Thursday. Looney said the district uses a device refresh program each year that does not affect the budget.
Students and teachers are corresponding through Microsoft Teams, an online collaboration application, during the closures, according to Looney. He gave an update on the food pick-up system the district is utilizing to ensure students have access to meals while at home, saying the current model has gone “exceptionally well.”
“I think we all recognize that this is an unprecedented time in our country and in our school community, and I think as long as we stick together and share information as much as possible, that we’re gonna make it through this just fine,” he said.
Officials gave a breakdown of the meals served in FCS on Monday, March 16, 2020:
Haynes Bridge Middle School 509
Mimosa Elementary School 657
Lake Forest Elementary School 946
Langston Hughes High School 476
Banneker High School 472
Tri-Cities High School 990
Total meal packets served (each contain 4 meals): 4,050
Total meals served: 16,200
However, some board members said some parents have complained that the six designated food pickup locations are too far away. District 3 Board Member Gail Dean said some students in her district did not have easy access to the location near I-285 and Lake Fuller. District 6 Board Member Kimberly Dove referenced the challenges of some students getting meals in the Northeast and Johns Creek areas, and Board Vice President Linda Bryant, who represents District 4, mentioned she had already spoken with Looney about limited access for some Westlake-area students.
Looney said officials are looking into adding more meal pickup locations for next week, but they have not yet finalized those plans. Katha Stuart, who represents District 1, asked why the district is not using buses to deliver food. Looney said it was in the original plans, but he said their three-rotation bus service and limited kitchens do not allow for it because of the number of schools in the system. He said it was also too risky, in terms of trying to follow the CDC guidelines of limiting the number of people to prevent exposure to the coronavirus. Looney also said there will be no food served during spring break.
FCS Chief Communications Officer Bryan Noyes said the district is creating a database that will facilitate more community members getting involved. Officials said a number of volunteers have reached out to help, but Looney said “there was no way to adequately screen them to prevent spreading the virus” while making sure they limit the groups to 50 people, in accordance with CDC guidelines. So they say the database will help.
Katie Reeves, the board member for District 2, said parents have expressed concerns about the schools being open to maintenance workers and exterminators, which they believe could hinder efforts to kill the virus or even spread it. Looney said there is a limited number of people going into the buildings and explained those workers are required to prevent bugs and other issues they could face once the schools reopen.
District 5 Board Member Linda McCain asked if the district is tracking how many students are taking advantage of online learning opportunities and the number of teachers in contact with students. Looney referenced an existing dashboard that captures this data and the district’s plans to share it with the board. He said teachers have been directed to stay in contact with students.
State Superintendent Richard Woods announced yesterday he is suspending state testing administration and accountability requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the Georgia Milestones End of Grade (EOG) and End of Course (EOC) Assessments and other required testing. Looney said he was waiting for information on whether the SAT and ACT standardized tests would be suspended.