042419_MNS_super_finalist Mike Looney

Mike Looney speaks during an April 17, 2019 news conference after Fulton County Schools leaders announced he was named the superintendent finalist.

As Fulton County Schools prepares to go to full face-to-face instruction next week amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Superintendent Mike Looney has taken to Twitter to reassure students, parents and staff the district is ready.

In a series of tweets Oct. 8 and 9, Looney defended the district’s plan to shift from Phase IV (two full days of in-person classes per week for all students), which started Oct. 5, to Phase V (full face-to-face instruction for all students with an online option for the ones not ready), which begins Oct. 14.

“Yesterday's epidemiology report indicates 93.5 cases per 100,000 Fulton County residents. We will receive one more report tomorrow prior to making a final decision about October 14th. Please stay tuned,” he said in one Oct. 8 tweet, which included an Oct. 6 graphic from the Fulton Board of Health.

Individuals responding to Looney’s message questioned the data he mentioned in his tweet, adding the more recent data shows a higher number of cases. Others, including parents, said they disagree with the plan to move to Phase V.

“My kids have been doing well with the phased face-to-face schedule (one day a week, then two days). We wouldn’t mind at all if you extended Phase IV a little longer if you have any concerns about the safety of our students and teachers!” one said.

Another said, “This makes me SO HAPPY we transferred to a private school. Now we don’t have to worry about agendas being pushed on us. We pay those who are willing to work to give kids a proper education. My kids will be way ahead. I feel terrible for those who can’t.”

Hours later, Looney tweeted, “As a reminder, the district is using the Fulton County Board of Health epidemiology report to inform our decisions. This has not changed. Visit our website for all related information: https://fultonschools.org/backtoschool.” That tweet included a graphic showing the district’s reopening matrix with phase-by-phase information.

In response, individuals continued to question the data.

More people will withdraw their students to go to an in-person school or homeschool if this back and forth doesn’t end. Stick to the plan and give people a choice or they will leave like they’ve done already this school year.

In a third tweet posted Oct. 9, Looney included a video of him speaking about the issue. In the video, he talked about the district’s decision to become the first one in the state to close all of its schools and shift to online instruction in March after a few of its employees were the first public-school workers to test positive for the coronavirus.

“Our response was hailed by some and met with deep criticism by others,” he said.

Of the district’s decision to start the 2020-21 academic year with online instruction and a phased approach to returning to in-person classes, Looney said, “Our teachers and leaders rose to the challenge. I’m thankful for their incredible commitment and effort. I also recognize the exceeding difficult time that so many of our students and families have been navigating.”

The superintendent added the district continues to monitor the board of health’s data as it moves into Phase V.

“From this day forward, we will use previously published closing matrix for school-by-school decisions,” he said. “The structure allows us to make decisions at the local level and will not change the status for the entire district unless the greater community has significant change.”

Of the decision to go back to full in-person instruction, Looney said, “We understand this news will be received with excitement and others with disappointment. As we navigate the uncertainty of this pandemic, we will remain steadfast in making safety our primary focus for decisions about school closure and operations.”

In response, individuals both praised and criticized the decision.

“Still think you should wait and do it at the beginning of a week, not mid-week,” one said.

Another added, “I’m happy the kids can go back, but it needs to be done with everyone’s safety in mind – I know you’re using the Fulton County epidemiology report – but why do the numbers differ from Georgia’s numbers for Fulton County? Can you please explain why there is this discrepancy?”

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