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Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale announces the district's reopening plan on Thursday, Sept. 3.

Cobb County School District students will soon have the option to return to the classroom for face-to-face learning.

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale announced the district will begin phase one of its reopening plan on Oct. 5.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that the three parameters of community spread, effective contact tracing protocol and efficient testing timeliness impacting us offering a face-to-face option have all been trending and continue to trend in the right direction and allow us to announce a start date for our phased plan,” Ragsdale said. “Beginning Oct. 5, 2020, we will begin phase one, which provides our families the option of continuing in a remote learning environment or returning to a face-to-face environment. Oct. 5 is the Monday following Fall break, and I trust that everyone will continue to do everything we can to keep the numbers moving in the right direction.”

The district will require students and staff to wear masks on buses and in school buildings. Additionally, schools will implement virus mitigation strategies like social distancing, placing hand sanitizing stations throughout school buildings and regular cleaning of school facilities.

“Phase one will see all of pre-K through fifth grade students and pre-K through 12th grade special education low incidence students having the option to return for full day instruction face-to-face,” Ragsdale said in an interview with the MDJ.

Phase two, welcoming sixth through eighth grade students back to the classroom, will begin Oct. 19, two weeks after the start of phase one. Phase three, welcoming high school students back for in-person learning, will begin Nov. 5, just over two weeks after the start of phase two.

Students and staff are off from school for Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3, so the scheduled Thursday start date for high school students is more than two weeks after the start of phase two.

Ragsdale said students will attend classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Just as they are utilized now, Wednesdays will be reserved for “individual {span id=”docs-internal-guid-113a20bb-7fff-1ed5-5dd1-210f0e506edc”}and small group support in the remote environment,” he said.

The district will also use Wednesdays to clean and disinfect school buildings and facilities.

How the district got here, and what happens nextDuring each phase of reopening, students and families will have the option to return to face-to-face instruction or remain in the current virtual, remote learning environment.

“As we indicated would be the case in our phased model for face-to-face instruction, you will be able to submit your choice of face-to-face or continued remote learning beginning 8 a.m. on Sept. 7 through September 20th using the ParentVue portal,” Ragsdale said.

Regardless of which option students choose, they will remain in their current classes with their same teachers, Ragsdale said.

“One very important aspect of our plan is that as parents choose either face-to-face or remote classrooms, it is our intention that students will be taught by their existing teachers,” he said. “Face-to-face and remote students in the same class will receive the same instruction from the same teacher.”

Thursday’s announcement comes as the district prepares to conclude its third week of online-only learning to start the school year.

On Aug. 4, the district released its phased reopening plan, but it did not provide specific reopening dates. Over the past month, Ragsdale has said the district would use public health data rather than dates to decide when to launch its reopening plan. On Thursday, Ragsdale said this data remains critical.

“We remain committed to making decisions based on public health guidance,” Ragsdale said, “with student and staff safety being our top priority.”

During a school board meeting Aug. 20, Ragsdale said community spread of COVID-19, or number of cases per 100,000 residents, had to continue trending downward to reinstate face-to-face learning. He provided the board and viewers with a target of 200 cases per 100,000 residents to begin phase one of reopening schools.

“This is not to say this is a hard parameter that ‘we’re not going to come back until we get this,’ or ‘we’re definitely going to come back as soon as this number hits,’” Ragsdale said at the August meeting. “But the number that we’re looking at is 200.”

While the district’s current plan would reinstate face-to-face learning beginning Oct. 5, Ragsdale said the community must continue doing everything it can to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“I didn’t expand on this very much in my announcement but I alluded to all of us making sure that we continue doing everything we can to keep the spread trending down, because we can not afford another summer-type of spike that we saw from July 4 around Labor Day and fall break,” Ragsdale told the MDJ. “So I encourage and ask everybody to please continue doing everything that we can to keep that spread down.”

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