By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 5, 2020
ATLANTA—Archdiocesan schools will open soon for classroom instruction but will be providing flexibility for families to allow distance learning for up to eight weeks.
School Superintendent Harold ‘Hal’ Plummer said in a letter sent July 20 to all the school leaders and parents he is confident schools are prepared for the fall semester.
“We ardently believe that the benefits of in-person instruction compared with remote delivery far outweigh the risks involved,” said Plummer.
Students are expected to arrive on many of the school campuses on or after Wednesday, Aug. 12. This will be the first time for students in the classroom since schools closed their doors in the middle of March as the novel coronavirus pandemic arrived in Georgia and instruction shifted to remote learning.
Educators have said in-person instruction is key as students learn better in-person and benefit from the socialization with peers.
Kelly Cory’s two young children will attend St. Joseph School, Marietta, when the school year begins. The family recently got a feel for having children in a group setting in the middle of the pandemic as the youngsters attended a summer camp without incident, Cory said in a Georgia Bulletin survey.
The March school shutdown forced her to take up managing schoolwork on top of working her own engineering job. The challenge was great even with two parents working from home, she said.
“Even with both of us juggling the kids’ needs, I never felt like I was productive,” Cory said in an email.
Now she’s comfortable sending her first grader and third grader back to school with all the safety measures, she said.
“I’m thrilled that we are given the choice of in-person learning, but grateful that families with concerns can opt to attend virtually to begin with.”
The decision for the school system, with more than 11,000 students, stands in contrast to the largest public school systems in metro Atlanta. The school systems in Gwinnett, Cobb and Fulton counties, along with Atlanta schools, have closed classrooms with students participating in remote learning only.
Some safety experts have suggested schools reopening virtually as the number of infections continue to rise. But the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated COVID-19 poses lower risks for children than for adults.
Plummer, who started as the superintendent in July, said the schools are implementing best practices following the guidance of public health leaders to curb the chance of spreading the disease.
Reopening guidelines set by an archdiocesan task force came from a commitment to follow medical facts and data for a safe opening, not the politics of the situation, he said.
The task force members included medical, legal and educational professionals and will continue to advise the Office of Catholic Schools during these times as guidance is made available by the CDC and Georgia Department of Public Health.
The 24-page document issued in early July by the task force to reopen schools states it was following “reasonable and prudent” contingency planning. Schools will enforce “layers of infection prevention” to keep students, teachers and staff safe, as outlined in the document.
The protocols repeat the guidance of the American Academy of Pediatrics that advocate the importance of opening schools, particularly for the social and developmental needs of students.
The plan stated there are no guarantees to keep the virus out of the classrooms, so guidelines should be in place to hire temporary employees and substitute teachers, if necessary.
For students studying from home, many schools spent the summer upgrading technology. A $40,000 grant from the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia to six schools paid for new computers for students to use remotely.
There are 18 archdiocesan schools in Atlanta including three high schools and 15 elementary schools. The six independent Catholic schools have also established safety protocols using a combination of virtual and on-site learning.
In the days leading up to the school year, high school students were taking place in on-campus activities such as academic enrichment or band camp, while following safety measures.