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Fayette County students to attend in-person classes four days a week

By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

Schools in Fayette County will soon begin operating a little closer to normal.

Beginning Monday, third- and sixth-grade students in the south metro Atlanta community will be allowed to go to class in person four times a week. If all goes well, students in the fourth and seventh grades will follow suit Oct. 12.

“And on Oct. 19, it will be fifth and eighth graders and ninth through 12th” returning to class four days a week, schools spokeswoman Melinda Berry-Dreisbach said.

Fayette’s phased approach comes as schools across metro Atlanta are slowly bringing students back to brick-and-mortar schools. After months of uncertainty over the direction of the pandemic, many believe safety protocols they instituted make face-to-face education viable.

“Our community transmission is going down and I think our community infection rate is below 5% now for Fayette,” said Fayette County Board of Education Chairman Scott Hollowell.

The district, whose goal is to return to five-day instruction for all students Oct. 26, has reported 24 student and eight staff infections since school began Aug. 17.

Fayette offered a hybrid school day from the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year with students going to class in person two days a week and remote learning the remaining days. Pre-K through second-graders attend school in person five days a week.

Not all students will make the switch. The 20,500-student district will continue to offer virtual-only learning for students who feel uncomfortable with in-person classes. About 14,000 students have elected to attend class in person while close to 6,400 have chosen virtual education.

Jennifer Darling-Aduana, an assistant professor of learning technologies at Georgia State University, said eliminating hurdles to instruction is good, but she worries about moving too fast in an attempt to return to normalcy.

“If heaven forbid, there was an outbreak and we have to switch back to all virtual learning, that could result in lower quality education if teachers are having to scramble at the last minute,” she said.

Brandee Gutierrez supports expanding the number of days of in-person instruction for her children, a son at Sara Harp Minter Elementary School and a daughter at Whitewater Middle School.

She said chose the hybrid model because it’s better for her kids than limited class time and supplemental worksheets.

“Just being in class and having that focus makes a big difference,” she said.

Peachtree City resident Lynn Ortman, however, plans to keep her fifth-grade daughter and eighth-grade son in virtual mode for now. Her son, who has asthma, is in one of the high risk categories, and Ortman wants to minimize any chance her parents and grandmother, who live nearby, could be infected.

While she has concerns about the transparency of the district’s data, she plans to re-evaluate the situation at the end of the next nine weeks when parents are allowed to switch schedules.

“I’m really hoping they’ll go back in January,” Ortman said.