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Gwinnett Schools reverse course, to start year with digital instruction

The change comes days after a heated BOE meeting last week.

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Gwinnett County Public Schools CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks announced the district was reversing course and starting the upcoming school year fully digital due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in Georgia.

This comes days after they discussed plans for the 2020-2021 school year during a heated meeting last Thursday. The Board said at that meeting that they would go forward with plans to give families the choice of virtual or in-person learning for the upcoming school year.

With a rise in COVID-19 cases, and Gwinnett in particular leading the state with confirmed cases, they changed their minds.

“There is no replacement for face-to-face instruction, and that was our preferred model for starting the school year,” said Superintendent Wilbanks. “With that in mind, we offered parents an option between in-person and digital instruction in order to be responsive to their wishes for their children. 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.”

Digital instruction in the fall will look very different than it did in the spring, the district said in a statement. They said expectations for teachers and students will be consistent with those for in-person instruction. The digital school day will follow a daily schedule, attendance will be expected and documented, and, students will receive grades and will take assessments to measure their learning.

They said teachers will report to their schools to deliver their digital lessons, participate in staff development, and collaborate with their fellow teachers to make digital instruction more effective for their students.

"For some employees, reporting to school may be difficult for a number of reasons. Principals will work with the staff members at their school to address individual concerns and make accommodations where possible," they said in a statement. "Those who are allowed to work from home will be expected to come to the school periodically to work with other school staff and leaders."

The district will check out Chromebooks and internet hotspots to students, based on need, to ensure equitable access to quality digital learning.

During the meeting last week, District 4 member Everton Blair was the only one against in-person instruction. While video and audio were still recording the meeting, BOE Chairman Louise Radloff could be heard saying a sentence that included "strangle him."

"Let me be clear: this is not about me. This is about the health and wellness of our 180,000 students, our 22,000 staff members, and the families to which they belong."

GSPS is the largest school district in the state. They announced in recent weeks they would allow parents to decide to choose between in-person or digital instruction for their children for the first semester. 

“This is not the beginning of the school year we had hoped for; however, it was a possibility we planned for, knowing that keeping students and staff safe had to be a priority,” Wilbanks said. “We are confident we can do digital learning well, thanks to the quality teachers and leaders we have in this district, the comprehensive preparation over the last four months, and our steadfast commitment to do what’s best for Gwinnett students.”

Instruction for students will begin Aug. 12. 

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