GWINNETT COUNTY, GA — Gwinnett County Public Schools announced Wednesday that all campuses will temporarily transition to virtual learning beginning next week due to rising coronavirus cases.
Classes will be in the virtual format beginning Tuesday, Jan. 19 — as Monday is the Martin Luther King Jr. school holiday — through Friday, Jan. 22. District leaders will monitor the coronavirus situation and its effects on staffing to determine the district's ability to resume in-person instruction on Jan. 25, the district said in a news release.
"As students returned to in-person and digital instruction this semester, we acknowledged the need to monitor the impact the rising COVID[-19] numbers within our community might have on our schools. The reality is that our school system — like our community and the state — is feeling the results of the holidays and winter break," Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said in the news release. "We are experiencing higher numbers of cases, suspected cases and close contacts among our in-person students and staff. The move to 100 percent digital learning for the coming week will allow us to effectively serve students while also doing what is best for our students and staff given the current situation."
The post-break impact on the district's ability to effectively staff schools is a concern, Wilbanks said. On Tuesday alone, the district saw 125 new reports involving employees who had tested positive for COVID-19, were suspected of having the coronavirus and were being tested, or had been identified as close contacts — bringing the total number of staff out of school or work to 785, 460 of which are teachers.
In a new report posted Thursday morning, GCPS saw 109 additional new reports of employees who had tested positive, were suspected of having the coronavirus and were being tested, or had been identified as close contacts.
"This issue is compounded by the shortage of substitutes available, an issue that school districts across the nation are experiencing," the release said.
Meal service will be offered during this transition to digital learning, and will be available for curbside pickup at schools. The district will also deliver meals along all bus routes countywide next week. Buses should run routes from about 10:45 a.m. to noon, according to the news release.
"While we fully intend to honor the choices our families made for their children in regard to receiving instruction in-person or digitally, the bottom line is that we must have the staff on hand in order to be able to do so," Wilbanks said in the release. "We understand that the move to 100 percent digital may create hardships for families. That said, we do feel that this is a necessary measure that will provide time for ill employees to get well and for those who are quarantined to be cleared for return to school and work."