Following the early success of its plan to distribute meals to students while out of school due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and a new federal recommendation, the Fulton County Schools district is more than tripling the number of participating schools.

“The school district is expanding this program from six locations to a total of 21 … schools beginning Monday,” said Patrick Burke, the district’s chief operations officer.

Burke spoke at the Fulton Board of Education March 19 meeting, which was conducted virtually due to the coronavirus and where district leaders provided updates on the school system’s response to COVID-19.

The meal distribution plan involves students receiving up to four meals each on March 16, 18 and 20 at six sites throughout the county: Mimosa and Lake Forest elementary schools, Haynes Bridge Middle School and Banneker, Langston Hughes and Tri-Cities high schools.

On March 23, 25 and 27, Burke said, it will be expanded to 15 other schools: Asa G. Hilliard, Brookview, College Park, Gullatt, Hamilton E. Holmes, Ison Springs, Esther Jackson, Hapeville, Liberty Point and Vickery Mill elementary; Holcomb Bridge, McNair and Sandy Springs middle and Westlake High.

The 21 schools selected are all Seamless Summer Schools, meaning they qualify for special funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to dole out free meals year-round, including the summer, based on student’s family demographics and other factors such as poverty levels. The district has a total of 31 Seamless Summer Schools.

Burke said the district expanded the plan for two reasons. First, it will comply with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which have changed from allowing gatherings of 50 individuals or less (the district’s employees were executing the plan under that mandate) to only 10, to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

“We will be extremely challenged just to meet that CDC mandate of 10 people or less in the kitchens based on the number of meals we’re serving,” Superintendent Mike Looney said.

Second, by expanding the plan, it can reach more of the district’s communities. At the board’s special called meeting March 17, District 4 board member Linda Bryant asked for Westlake to be added to the plan because it was far from the nearest meal distribution site.

Burke said 16,200 meals were distributed March 16 and 15,176 March 18. Also at the meeting, district leaders provided an update on how the process to dole out computer devices to students in third through fifth grades is going. The devices are given to students on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the same schools where the meals are being handed out.

“We just completed our second day of device distributions,” Chief Information Officer Serena Sacks said. “The six locations with totals for March 17 and 19 are: Banneker, 150 and 362; Langston Hughes, 250 and 575; Tri-Cities, 200 and 316; Haynes Bridge 135 and 303; Lake Forest242 and 254, Mimosa 155 and 296; for a total of 14,762.”

Looney said Fulton has been a pioneer in Georgia by being the first district to close all schools because of the virus, in part because two employees tested positive for it.

At the March 17 meeting, Looney announced he’s authorized the district to spend about $1.5 million to purchase 3,000 more Dell laptops, averaging $500 each, for students in grades 3 through 12 who don’t have a computer to be equipped with one for remote learning.

“I’ve been told we are the first district in the country to get the devices in short order,” he said.

Looney said the district is encouraging parents to preregister their students before picking up the devices to save time.

“It takes 10 to 12 minutes per device once a person shows up,” Looney said of the process to get a student set up with their computer. “We’re going to try to set up a process so people can come in and families don’t want to wait for an hour.”

Of the process, Sacks said, “Pre-registrations from Tuesday made it go more smoothly Thursday.”

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