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Georgia’s largest school district won’t have in-person start

File photo
File photo

ATLANTA – Georgia’s largest school district has become the latest to move to all-remote learning to start the school year.

Gwinnett County Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks announced Monday that the 180,000-student district in suburban Atlanta will not offer in-person classes when it begins instruction on Aug. 12. Instead, all classes will be taught online.

A number of other large districts had already announced plans for all-remote instruction or delayed the start of school into September, including Atlanta, Bibb County, Clayton County, Cobb County, DeKalb County, Fulton County and Savannah-Chatham County. Forsyth County is now the largest district in Georgia planning to offer classes five days a week.

“There is no replacement for face-to-face instruction, and that was our preferred model for starting the school year,” Wilbanks said in a statement. “However, out of an abundance of concern for our students, families, and employees, we made a very difficult decision based on the increasing number of COVID-19 cases we are seeing in our county, as well as the concerns that have been expressed by our teachers, parents, and others in the community.”

Gov. Brian Kemp and state school Superintendent Richard Woods both on Friday encouraged schools to open for in-person instruction, but indicated they didn’t plan to try to order schools to host students face-to-face. Many experts have voiced concerns about what students are missing with remote instruction.

Gwinnett County’s decision follows extended wrangling over the district’s plans. School board member Everton Blair had been pushing for weeks for all-remote learning, but four of five board members last week expressed support for the district’s plans, which had given parents a choice of in-person or remote learning.

That Thursday meeting ended with longtime board member Louise Radloff telling Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks, in a remark caught on a still-live microphone that “I could strangle him” in reference to Blair, the district’s only African American board member. Radloff later apologized.

Sunday, another board member joined Blair in announcing support for all-remote learning.

Wilbanks said the district would use information from health officials to determine when it could start face-to-face instruction. District officials say they’ve worked to improve digital learning and will hold teachers and students to higher expectations, setting a daily schedule with some live lessons, taking attendance and giving grades and tests.

Teachers will generally deliver lessons online from schools, but Gwinnett officials say they will allow some staff members to work from home “to address individual concerns.”

The district says it will loan computers and internet connection devices to students who need them.