The Gainesville City School System is postponing its return to face-to-face instruction and instead will begin the school year on time but with a continuation of classes at home.
The first day of class for GCSS schools will still be Aug. 17, but students who had selected the face-to-face learning option will instead start off learning remotely. The first day of in-person classes is currently planned to be on Tuesday, Sept. 8. Students who have chosen to attend the Gainesville Virtual Academy will not be affected by the change.
During a school board meeting Tuesday evening, Superintendent Jeremy Williams said the decision to open the school year remotely came in response to concerning trends in COVID-19 cases in Hall County. He pointed specifically to the Northeast Georgia Health System reaching a new peak in patients hospitalized for COVID-19, among other data points.
“We feel like at this point right now, at this time, to go face-to-face would kind of be a disservice, not only to our health community, but putting our employees and families in a position to where, if it’s already at a level where we’ve peaked before, can we comfortably come back?”
GCSS school employees will be returning to school buildings this Wednesday for pre-planning, and that aspect of the calendar will not be changed.
Williams said during the pre-planning period, teachers will be focusing on providing as positive of a remote learning experience as possible and improving upon teaching measures taken in the spring when school buildings were initially closed.
“When we shut down in March, no one was really prepared to provide quality instruction during that closure,” Williams said. “What we have to do is ensure we do a 180. That the instruction we provide during the remote opportunities, No. 1, is the quality that we expect and the families expect, that communication is as best as it can be, also that we’re setting a great foundation for the school year.”
Williams added that the GCSS open house week, currently scheduled for Aug. 10-14, would not be altered. Teachers will be available during the week of Aug. 31-Sept. 4 to meet with families — either in person or via Zoom — for “recheck week” meetings where they will provide students and parents with “updates on progress and review health protocols for returning to buildings.”
Although the current plan is for all students who selected the face-to-face learning option to return to school buildings on Sept. 8, Williams said the school board would take the week of Aug. 24-28 to re-evaluate the safety concerns of students getting back to face-to-face instruction. If necessary, Williams said the school system would continue extending remote learning for three-week long periods until local trends in COVID-19 cases are deemed safe enough for students to return.
“For me, as a parent and as a superintendent, we’ve got to be careful about how we return,” Williams said. “We feel like this acclimation plan is a good way to acclimate our employees, our families and our students back into a traditional face-to-face environment.”
Hall County Schools meanwhile decided earlier to delay the start of school by a week. And the University of North Georgia on Monday discussed what the upcoming semester will look like, which involves a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning.