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Georgia schools given guidelines for reopening amid COVID-19

Georgia school officials released guidelines Monday on how to reopen the state’s public schools for the 2020-2021 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The guideline document, called “Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools,” outlines steps local schools should take to prevent the highly infectious virus from entering classroom environments and to curb its spread if an outbreak occurs.

Georgia’s school districts halted in-person classes in more than 2,200 schools starting in late March as concerns ramped up over coronavirus. The state’s roughly 1.7 million students were left to finish the remainder of their spring-semester coursework via online means.

In recent weeks, Gov. Brian Kemp has moved to reopen sectors of the state’s economy and social activities, including summer school classes that can be held starting this month. Summer schools would have to keep students separated in classrooms and routinely sanitize facilities.

The 10-page guideline document released Monday leaves it to school districts whether to close school buildings in the event the virus spreads. It also calls for districts to participate in contact tracing with state health officials, place educational signs on good hygiene in school buildings and decide how to handle students and teachers who show symptoms of the virus.

Additionally, the guidelines note ways for school districts to shift to online learning in the event of an outbreak, as well as to take a “hybrid” approach allowing districts to blend in-person and online learning. If the virus spreads at a “moderate” level, the guidelines advise schools to screen students and staff before they enter buildings and to require students to keep space between each other in cafeterias, classrooms and hallways.

“In partnership with the Georgia Department of Public Health, we created these guidelines to give school districts a blueprint for safe reopening that is realistic in the K-12 setting,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods wrote in the document. “We have a responsibility to keep our students, teachers, school staff and families safe and to provide the best possible education for our children.”

The guidelines will likely not be the last word on how Georgia should resume classes for the 2020-2021 school year. Last month, Kemp and Woods formed six working groups of educators, public health officials and state agency representatives to lead the school reopening effort.

The guidelines also come as the Georgia Department of Education faces across-the-board cuts of around $1.6 billion to all aspects of the agency prompted by the virus, from state administrative offices in Atlanta to specialty programs like agricultural education to everyday basic classroom education.