Fulton County Schools moves forward with remote learning plan, graduation despite school closure for rest of the year

A Fulton County Schools teacher works from home while schools are closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Fulton County Schools)
A Fulton County Schools teacher works from home while schools are closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Fulton County Schools)

A Fulton County Schools teacher works from home while schools are closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Fulton County Schools)

When Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order April 1 to close all K-12 public schools for in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year in response to the continuously changing COVID-19 pandemic, questions about graduation ceremonies and online instruction guidelines floated around Fulton County Schools families, board members said at the April 2 FCS board of education meeting. However, FCS Superintendent Mike Looney said graduation will not be canceled; he could not take that moment away from the seniors, he said.

Additionally, State School Superintendent Richard Woods submitted a package of waivers to the Georgia Department of Education on March 26, requesting exemptions related to assessments, accountability and school identification as well as reporting requirements. This means statewide assessments—including the Georgia Milestones end-of-grade and end-of-course exams, the Georgia Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills 2.0 assessment, Georgia Alternate Assessment 2.0 assessment and the National Assessment of Educational Progress—and accountability and reporting requirements would not be administered this year.

The U.S. Department of Education approved the request March 27.

"[The closure of schools] is a hard reality and a real loss—for teachers who miss their students, students who miss their teachers and for our graduating seniors," Woods said in a statement. "It is also the wisest decision, given what we know about COVID-19 and how it is affecting our state."

However, school is not over for the rest of the year for FCS students. FCS board members and Looney said online learning will still take place for the rest of the year.


"We are committed to the end to our students and to our teachers to continue enhancing the use of the tools the board has given us and the taxpayers have provided through their funding," Looney said in the April 2 FCS board meeting.

Remote learning plan

As parents are adjusting to having to become home-school teachers with some juggling working from home as well, instruction time is not the same as a regular school day, said Cliff Jones, chief academic officer for FCS, in a March 24 interview.

For pre-K to second grade, the district requires 50 minutes of instruction time; for grades three to five, 90 minutes of instruction time is required; and for grades six to 12, two hours of instruction time is required, Jones said. Since its implementation the week of March 16 up to the week of March 30, the district has seen a 19.7% increase in the number of unique student logins on ClassLink—one of the programs FCS is using for the remote learning plan—Jones said at the April 2 FCS board meeting.

The week of March 16, 34,506 students logged into ClassLink, but by the week of March 30, 41,300 students had logged in.

"We know that a parent at home is dealing with work, is dealing with quarantine, is dealing with a student, and now they're their teacher. ... This isn't going to be the same type of environment that a teacher in a classroom would have," Jones said. "We feel like this is a good balance for our parents and for our students knowing that there is an unknown in each student's house."

In regard to attendance, every student is being counted as present during this time, he said.

"You have to think about it a little differently based on people's access and the fact that we are dealing with a true unknown," Jones said. "Things are going on out there that are beyond the norm."

Grading guidelines

According to the FCS remote learning guide, all student grades will remain as they were March 12—the day the first school closure announcement came from FCS officials—as long as the student remains engaged and submits work showing they have mastered the prioritized standards. Work submitted during the remote learning period will only count if it improves a student's overall grade, the document reads, and students can redo, resubmit or retake any assignments given after March 12, per the GADOE.

For any missing assignments, an "I" will be entered by the teacher, meaning "incomplete grade." Per GADOE guidance, FCS is adopting a no-zero policy during the remote learning period, the guide reads.

"That incomplete does not have a negative effect on a student's grade. It really starts a process of which each school will have a nonengagement team, and this will allow us to find those students who are not engaged," Jones said during the April 2 board meeting. "We feel like this could be a really important lever for us to be able to pull to get resources to our students."

For elementary and middle school students, if less than 70% of remote learning assignments are complete, an incomplete grade will be assigned on the report card, and students will be required to attend summer school. For high school students, failure to engage in remote learning with multiple incomplete assignments will result in mandatory summer school.

Any high school student failing a course prior to March 12 will be given opportunities to raise their grade during the remote learning period, according to the guide.

While state accountability exams and International Baccalaureate exams are canceled, remote Advanced Placement testing will still occur, the guide reads. Testing begins May 11 and continues through May, according to newly released testing dates by the College Board.

Additionally, the instructional setting and placement recommendations for on-level, advanced or accelerated English Language Arts and/or mathematics courses for K-5 students as well as honors, AP or International Baccalaureate courses for middle and high school students should not be affected by the remote learning program when possible, according to the guide. For K-5 students, student placement as of March 12 will remain in place for the following year.

Students in grades six to 12 will also remain in their placement recommendations for the 2020-21 academic year. If a student receives an incomplete grade in the course due to lack of engagement during remote learning but completes the required summer school experience, placement in an advanced or accelerated course will continue for the 2020-21 year. Students who do not clear the incomplete over the summer and are recommended for placement in the next grade level may be considered for the on-level version of the course.

"We want to make sure that we're rewarding students for being engaged during this time but also holding them accountable as much as possible with fairness and equity," Jones said during the FCS board meeting.

Graduation

Looney read a letter to the senior class during the April 2 FCS board meeting, urging them to help develop inventive approaches to graduation that will serve as an alternate method to the traditional in-person ceremonies.

"As the first graduating class in my tenure as the superintendent of Fulton County Schools, you will always hold a special place in my heart," Looney said in the letter. "I am profoundly saddened that these unprecedented circumstances have taken away opportunities to experience so many of the cherished moments associated with your senior year."

He said he has asked individual campus principals to begin consulting with seniors and begin making plans for a modified ceremony at each high school.

"This might include a blend of virtual and in-person participation while adhering to social distancing requirements, or it could be more of a virtual nontraditional ceremony," Looney said in the letter. "While our plans for a normal conclusion to the school year have come to a halt, I call on you and your collective wisdom to devise solutions that allow us to replace traditional ceremonies with new ways to honor you in the manner of which you are deserving."

All graduation-eligible seniors' academic year will end May 1, Looney said. A schedule for producing final transcripts is forthcoming, and any student needing extra time to meet the required graduation requirements will be given time to do so by their local school administration.

To view the complete remote learning guide, see below:

By Kara McIntyre
Kara started with Community Impact Newspaper as the summer intern for the south Houston office in June 2018 after graduating with a bachelor's degree in mass communication from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. She became the reporter for north Houston's Tomball/Magnolia edition in September 2018, moving to Alpharetta in January 2020 after a promotion to be the editor of the Alpharetta/Milton edition, which is Community Impact's first market in Georgia.


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