The Georgia Department of Education will not seek to influence when school districts reopen classroom buildings for in-person instruction during the pandemic.
In a Tuesday news release, state Superintendent Richard Woods said local school districts have the autonomy to determine how and when they will reopen school buildings to students during the 2020-21 school year.
“The role of the Georgia Department of Education is to support the course of action decided upon by local school districts, so that we can work together to ensure a successful outcome for students,” Woods said in the release. “Whatever the start of school looks like, no one can guarantee a start without hiccups or challenges, but I can guarantee we will do everything possible to ensure our students are safe and learning.”
Woods said most Georgia school districts will return to in-person instruction when the school year begins in August, but he acknowledged that some districts, like those in metropolitan areas with higher population densities, will start the school year online only.
Atlanta, Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Marietta are among the school districts starting the school year online only.
“The community needs and public health data look very different from one area of the state to another,” Woods said. “We must recognize that, honor that, and continue to let local communities and school districts make local decisions — that’s how we will build trust and how we will get back to school safely.”
Woods’ statement comes less than a week after Cobb and Marietta schools announced the school year would start virtually. In an interview with the MDJ on Friday, Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said he wasn’t sure if the Georgia Department of Education or Gov. Brian Kemp could force the district to reopen for in-person instruction.
Woods advised district officials to regularly communicate with their communities and provide updates about reopening efforts. Woods said he knows teachers are eager to return to classrooms, but he also knows safety must be the priority.
According to Woods, the state department of education will issue face coverings, thermometers, hand sanitizing stations and other supplies to districts to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in schools. He said the department is pursuing a federal testing waiver to allow students and teachers to focus on safety and learning.
“Let me be very clear: School districts and communities will continue to have my full support and commitment in the path they select,” Woods said. “Whatever a school district’s decision, our issued guidance supports that model.”