What to Expect Upon Returning to Face-to-Face Instruction

Evan Gmahle , Reporter

Students and parents must choose whether to return to school in-person for the first semester by Friday.

Parents and students will make their selection in a form distributed on the school website Thursday. Fulton County encourages students and parents to follow the choice made in this survey.

The choice is part of the county’s five-phase plan for reopening.

Since September 8, students have been allowed to schedule one-on-one appointments with their teachers, marking phase one of the plan. Phase two, which would have allowed for half a day a week, is not being implemented.

Instead, phase three will begin Monday. This was expected to begin when cases of the Coronavirus either consistently decreased for two weeks or dropped below 150 cases per 100,000 people, which the county projects will happen next week.

This phase will give students the option to attend school one day a week, the specific day depending on the first letter of their last name: A-E return Monday, F-K on Tuesday, L-P on Thursday and Q-Z on Friday. Wednesday will remain an asynchronous day and no one will attend.

Phase four, scheduled to begin Oct. 5, is supposed to take place once new cases decline for two weeks or when the rate of new cases is below 125 per 100,000. During this phase, students may attend school in person for two days a week, either Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday. Wednesday remains asynchronous.

The fifth and final stage of the plan allows for full, five-day in-person schooling, and is expected to be in place by October 14.

Several measures are being implemented to help ensure safety while reopening is in action. All students and employees must wear a mask, and random temperature checks will be done at the entrance to the building.

As both the day students return and homeroom classes are ordered alphabetically, the latter has been reorganized to reduce the number of students in a room at once. In the cafeteria, seating will be more heavily regulated to ensure social distancing.

Whether online or in-person, classes will continue to use Microsoft Teams as a conduit for instruction and assignments, and those who do return are expected to bring their school devices.

The plan is not unchangeable, as circumstances may require modifying it. Principal Ashley Agans said this plan, along with any potential new ones, come from Fulton County Schools, adding that the district is largely focused now on carrying out this reopening plan.

Several future items, such as if the second semester will allow students not to return to school, what to do if cases of the Coronavirus increase after returning and when to transition back to the traditional grading system, have not yet been decided.

Students, such as senior Ashley Cotsman, vary in their opinions on the plan. Cotsman said she plans to return to school as early as possible, saying her rigorous workload and difficulty with online learning motivated her to make this decision, adding, however, that within her social circle, most students are leaning toward remaining online for the time being.

Another motive to return to school, Cotsman said, was having a situation which allows it. Neither she nor anyone in her home is particularly at risk for complications from Coronavirus. However, something Cotsman said she noticed with the reopening plan was a potential health risk for others.

“I wish that in-person school was optional for teachers in addition to students,” Cotsman said over text. “A lot of teachers are older and have health conditions and this is extremely concerning to me. They must either put their lives at risk or quit their jobs.”

Social Studies teacher Lauren Hall, meanwhile, noted the effects the implementation of this plan may have on education and learning. Among the most important things she mentioned was the differing abilities of various teachers to deal with the situation put in front of them, and how that will affect classes both as they have already occurred and going forward.

“I don’t think any of us, when we were getting our degrees and certifications, ever thought something like this would happen, so we are all going into it with varying levels of comfort that mostly correlates to our comfort with technology,” she said in an email.

Though students are moving in-person, online learning will remain a part of the learning experience, as teachers and students alike continue to make use of Teams and other programs.

One upside of the change back to in-person education, according to Hall, will be the potential for stronger interactions between teacher and student.

“For me, the daily non-content-related conversations have always been one of my favorite parts,” said Hall. “Sharing stories with students before class starts, having an informal check-in with kids at the beginning of class and being able to read their body language when you ask, “How are you REALLY doing?”

This, Hall says, has been much harder during online school, despite the stress students are under. At least with those who do return, it will become much more feasible.

“I hope our community can rally around us and support us in the policies and procedures we need to facilitate in order to make this process happen and to keep it safe for everyone.” Hall said.

“Generally, if we can all encourage an environment of mutual respect and we can work together, then I hope it will be enough to keep us in the building once we get here.”