Virus leads 2 more Georgia school systems to go online only

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ATLANTA (AP) — Two of Georgia's largest school districts announced Thursday that they will not allow students to return to classrooms when schools resume, but instead offer instruction online only because of the coronavirus.

School officials in Fulton and Cobb counties had initially given parents the option of sending their kids to school or having them learn virtually when classes resume on Aug. 17.

Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney cited the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the county in his announcement that the district was revoking the in-person learning option.

“I have been very clear all along that the reopening of Fulton County schools was predicated on the level of community spread that our schools would be facing when we resumed school," Looney said in a video message posted on the district's website. "Unfortunately, that data continues to move in the wrong direction.”

Looney acknowledged the decision would create “heartache,” but he said the district's priority was to make sure students and staff were safe.

Cobb County Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said virtual learning was not a substitute for face-to-face instruction, and the district would bring students back to classrooms “as soon as humanly possible.”

All teachers will be trained in effective remote learning practices, and the district will provide as many tablets and laptops “as possible” to students who do not have devices at home, Cobb County school officials said in a news release.

Atlanta Public Schools and two other large districts in the state, DeKalb and Clayton, have previously said they will offer only online instruction when classes resume.

As of Wednesday, nearly 2,800 people were hospitalized in Georgia with the COVID-19 respiratory illness, the highest on record and nearly twice the total on July 1. The state reported that 84% of hospitals’ available critical beds were in use, although some hospitals said they have opened up more space and have more room.

Georgia overall had nearly 128,000 confirmed infections and nearly 3,100 deaths, although experts say many more people contract the illness but are never tested. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. Most recover, but some can become severely ill or die.

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