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.

Two and a half weeks after announcing it would start the 2020-21 academic year with in-person instruction and an option for students to take virtual classes, Fulton County Schools is changing to online-only classes due to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.

“I have been very clear all along that the reopening of (the district) was predicated on the level of community spread that our schools would be facing when we resumed school. Unfortunately, that data continues to move in the wrong direction. I’m resolute in making sure that when we return to school, that our students and staff members can do so in a safe and effective manner,” Fulton Superintendent Mike Looney, Ed.D., said in a special announcement July 16 via the district’s website and cable channels.

At the Fulton Board of Education’s special called meeting June 29, Looney announced the original plan to have in-person classes with an online option, which did not require a board vote. But the board did vote 7-0 to approve amending the 2020-21 calendar so school could start Aug. 17 instead of Aug. 10, as Looney requested to give it more time to prepare.

In his July 16 announcement, he said the decision to switch to online-only instruction was made after monitoring the jump in COVID-19 cases. On June 29, Looney said, in Fulton there were 640 cases per 100,000 residents, but that number increased to 1,069 through July 15.

He’s taken to Twitter multiple times to encourage parents, students and district employees to wear masks and practice social distancing in an effort to quell the virus.

Looney did not say how many weeks or months of online-only classes the district would begin the school year with but added those details will be provided at the board’s next meeting July 23.

He also said he’s also concerned with how the district’s athletic teams’ summer workouts, which began June 15, a week after the Georgia High School Association allowed them to start, have fared.

“Unfortunately, that experience hasn’t gone well,” he said. “And while the (GHSA) permits groups of up to 50 athletes to participate in activities, Fulton County Schools has limited that number to 20. Despite that, the number of active COVID cases amongst our athletes and our coaches has continued to rise, so much so that I have a hard time visualizing (that) with groups of 20 athletes we can’t safely get together and practice and condition, I’m not sure how we can foreseeable do school in a safe manner.”

District spokesman Brian Noyes said three coaches and three student athletes have tested positive for the virus.

“In addition, after temperature checks and screenings, we have had to limit participation or close practice in some form at 13 of our 16 high schools,” he said.

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