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Cobb schools shares details about reopening plan

By Kristal Dixon, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

The Cobb County School District is preparing to roll out the first phase of its reopening plan, and things will look different for students and teachers when they return to the classroom.

That’s according to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, who told the board of education on Thursday that the district will rely on technology to ensure students learning remotely and those returning to classrooms will get the same level of instruction.

The district will reopen classes on Oct. 5 to students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Some special education classes for kindergarten through 12th grade students will also have an in-person option in the first phase of the reopening.

Ragsdale said educators be teaching the same lessons to both groups of students at the same time. For the students learning remotely, the teachers will have laptops with cameras and equip themselves with Bluetooth microphones so students at home can see and hear them.

The district began the academic year with virtual-only classes on Aug. 17. Ragsdale said that the school district will continue to adapt and institute safety measures as long as the coronavirus pandemic is around.

“I hope that we will be able to pull out of this situation that we are in with COVID-19 and be able to get back to some sense of normal operation as we were before COVID,” he said. “But when we come back face to face, this will not be a normal school day like it was in 2019. It’s going to look different. It’s going to be different.”

Students and staff will be required to wear masks on buses and in buildings, including when they are in classes. Teachers will be asked to wear them whenever possible.

Board members Charisse Davis and Dr. Jaha Howard said they supported the idea of incorporating a mask mandate into the district’s student dress code policy.

“This is not anything new where we’ve had to enforce the dress code before and I just can’t think of anything more important,” Davis said.

Howard added the proposal was a way to support teachers and other staff members who will be in the building.

“This isn’t revolutionary,” he said. “This is pretty straightforward stuff.”

But a motion to consider a policy change was rejected, with opposition from Board Chairman Brad Wheeler and board members David Banks, David Chastain and Randy Scamihorn. David Morgan was absent.

Ragsdale said the current two-week number of cases per 100,000 people has dropped below the 200 threshold he wanted to see before reopening classrooms. As of Thursday, the Georgia Department of Public Health reports the number of COVID-19 cases in Cobb County for the past two weeks have dropped to 172 per 100,000 people.

As the year moves on, Ragsdale said there is a possibility that the district may not move into phases two and three of its reopening plan if there’s an increase in COVID-19 cases. Phase two, which would bring back sixth through eighth-grade students, has a tentative start date of Oct. 19. Ninth through 12th-grade students would return on Nov. 5 under the plan.

He added the remote learning environment could continue for the entire academic year because some parents may feel uncomfortable sending their children into classrooms.

Cobb County is still distributing devices to students who need the technology to learn remotely. As of Thursday, the Cobb school district has received 40,222 requests for devices — tablets, laptops and Wi-Fi hot spots — and distributed 36,928 devices to students. The remaining 3,294 are waiting to be picked up from schools by parents, Ragsdale said.