When Fulton County Schools’ new academic year starts Aug. 10, whether it’s with in-person or virtual instruction or a combination of both, the district will be ready with a plan to adjust if a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hits the state.

“We do believe we’ll eventually go back to face-to-face instruction. We’ll look at ways to manage ongoing COVID cases in schools,” district Superintendent Mike Looney said.

At the Fulton County Board of Education’s June 18 meeting at the South Learning Center in Union City, Looney announced an interim school closure matrix decision strategy on how the district will respond to any new cases of students or staff members contracting the virus once the new school year begins.

Under the plan, there are three levels of the virus’ spread, based on local and state public health officials: low/no spread (five or less cases per 100,000), medium (six to 10 cases per 100,000) and substantial/high (more than 100 cases per 100,000).

There are also four criteria for closure response:

Criteria 1 (one student or one staff member at one site or at multiple sites in different clusters): where the range of response is closing school(s) for up to 24 hours (low/no), close school(s) for up to 24 hours (moderate) or close school(s) for up to 72 hours (substantial/high)

Criteria 2 (two to four students or two or four staff members at one site or at multiple sites in different clusters): where the range of response is closing school(s) (low/no or moderate) or close school(s), a school zone or the entire district (substantial/high), with the closure for all three levels being at least 72 hours

Criteria 3 (five or more students or staff members at one site or in one cluster): where the range of response is closing an individual school or cluster (low/no or moderate) or close school(s), a school zone, a school region or the entire district, with the closure for all three levels being for at least 14 days

Criteria 4 (five or more students or staff members in multiple clusters): where the range of response is closing a school zone or region or the entire district (low/no or moderate), with the closure for all three levels being for at least 14 days, or close the entire district until further notice.

“This in no way impacts the decision on when we start school Aug. 10. We will be communicating this with the parents and the public on the situation,” Looney said of the plan.

As for what type of instruction the district will have Aug. 10 when school starts, he said that decision will be made at the board’s special called meeting June 29.

At that meeting the board is also expected to approve its tentative 2020-21 academic year budget, which is $1 billion. The board’s June 9 work session and June 18 meeting also served as state-mandated budget hearings where the public could weigh in before the budget is approved. No one spoke at the June 18 meeting.

The district may have to dip less into its reserve fund to pay for the budget based on numbers the state reported on its own budget when the Legislature resumed its 2020 session June 15 after a three-month break due to the pandemic, since Fulton gets some of its funding from the state.

“The (state budget) reduction was at 11% as opposed to the 14% that we thought it would be,” said Marvin Dereef, the district’s chief financial officer, adding that equates to a $7.3 million improvement for Fulton’s tentative budget.

The district’s savings on the budget means Fulton will be able to keep its pre-kindergarten grant and charter system programs in place, he said. That was good news to the ears of District 1 board member Katha Stuart.

“I’m glad to see it’s remaining intact,” she said. “Who would have thought we’d have only an 11% cut vs. a 14% cut and spending only $29 million of our reserves (for the district budget)? We would have never imagined that three months ago.”

Looney said the Fulton district does not plan to furlough any employees due to the budget cuts, and its millage rate is expected to remain at 17.796, which board president and District 7 member Julia Bernath said is the lowest among metro Atlanta districts.

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