ATLANTA — The Fulton County School System has announced expanded learning options for the school year, which includes a "mask-optional hub" for K-8 students.
On Wednesday, the school system announced a mask requirement for students at all facilities, including those in Johns Creek, because that city had now reached a high community spread of COVID to put it alongside the rest of Fulton County's cities. It had previously been the only city exempt for coming in just under the "high spread" threshold.
The district also introduced two more learning options on Thursday morning. These could stand as alternatives for parents who may not be comfortable sending their child to school amid the pandemic, and parents who don't want their child to abide by a mask mandate.
"FCS will provide parents with flexible schooling options to the extent possible and practical," the district said.
According to an explainer presentation the school system released in a tweet, parents can enroll their children in grades K-2 in remote leaning or they can send their children in grades K-8 to learn at a "mask-optional" hub at the Crabapple Center. It's located at 10700 Crabapple Road in Roswell, which is the recently vacated Crabapple Middle School Campus.
A group of about 100 gathered outside of a Fulton County School District building to express their concerns with the board. Fulton County parents Lee Mills and Thomas Bose were in that group.
"It's just wrong," Bose said. "We're using children as pawns in the game of political theatre. It has to stop. We're tried of it... as parents we are done. We're not going away, we're not going to be quiet. We're not going to be rude but we're not going to be quiet and we're not going to sit down and take it."
Bose said these options are not solutions.
"The option they're giving is they're going to send your kids, if you don't want them wearing a mask, to go to a different school. They're segregated. We're back to segregation. [What we want is] mask optional, no segregation. Period. It's easy," he said.
"We're really upset that the board hasn't supported mask optional," Mills said. "We have no issue with you or anyone else wearing a mask. If kids want to wear a mask, they have every right to do so."
The virtual program for students in K-2, which has a seat availability of 300 students, opens on Sept. 7 and has a lottery-based admission. The presentation from the school district states, right now, it's only a one semester commitment and students will remain enrolled at home school using a device provided by Fulton County Schools.
"They've offered 300 fantastic seats to appease... we filled up this place with our crew here tonight," Mills added. "That is an insult and a travesty."
Students eligible for enrollment at a district middle or elementary school can participate in the program at the Crabapple mask-optional learning hub, which also starts on Sept. 7. Fulton County Schools said students in this program will remain enrolled in their assigned school and classrooms, and can participate in activities available at their assigned school.
Fulton County mother Liz Melkio said her son just started 2nd grade. She was waiting for an option like this one for her six year old.
"Last two weeks have been really difficult because of all the reports coming in and the cases going high," she said. "As a parent, I was really scared to send them to school. So now they have this virtual option... I'm really happy about it."
Melkio said she is worried, however, that her son might not get in due to it being a lottery-based system.
"As a parent, I would feel much safer if he's going to learn from home," she said. "We did it last year, and it was perfectly fine. I've been commenting everywhere the same things for a couple of days now and I'm really happy that you know, they have heard it and then made a change."
Face-to-face instruction will be offered to students in all core classes there, but specialty classes, like physical education or world languages, will be through the virtual program, the district said. Fulton County Schools said they're expecting to stop offering the mask-optional hub as an alternative at the end of the semester, but that can be subject to change.
"FCS will provide high-quality, uninterrupted, face-to-face instruction to the fullest extent possible," the district said.
The district said this is a "choice program," and they won't provide transportation for kids unless it's required by an individualized educational plan. Meals, however, will be provided by being transported from another school in the district to the hub.
Both the K-2 virtual program and the K-8 mask-optional hub are contingent on whether the district is able to recruit staff to fill classroom positions as needed, according to Fulton County Schools.
According to Fulton County Schools, the virtual hub is only feasible if they have enough parents commit during the application window. This program is limited to 500 students.
Meanwhile, a Fulton County High School teacher who wants to remain anonymous tells 11Alive she wishes the district would provide hybrid learning for her students, because right now, she said, there's just not enough staff.
"I just really think like no teachers voices are going on deaf ears to be honest. We're basically scrambling. I have students that are sitting on stools," she said. "I have a carpet area for flexible seating. In my class, I have three students that are sitting on that carpet area. It is very cramped, which makes it challenging for me to walk the classroom if I needed to provide support. It makes it challenging if we were to have a drill as students need to hop out quickly and exit the classroom."