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Gwinnett County Public Schools will give families two options for the fall 2020 semester: have their children attend classes in-person, or have them participate in digital learning instead.

Gwinnett County Public Schools' plans for the start of the 2020-2021 school year will be the subject of a special called meeting of the county's school board on Tuesday — and one board member is saying the district should not reopen for in-person instruction because of a surge in COVID-19 novel coronavirus cases.

The Gwinnett Board of Education will hold the meeting at 5 p.m. in the Executive Board Room at the J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Support Center, which is located at 437 Old Peachtree Road in Suwanee. School system officials recently said they planned to have students return to school Aug. 5 for in-class instruction, although families can opt to keep their children home and have them do digital learning instead during the fall semester. 

School board member Everton Blair released a letter on social media on Monday, in which he questioned the decision to reopen.

"As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Gwinnett county, the state and the nation, I do not think we should reopen schools for in-person instruction," Blair wrote. "I am looking forward to discussing this (Tuesday) with my colleagues and to continue to hear from all of you as we make these tough decisions together."

Blair is pushing the digital learning option for beginning the school year, which he wants delayed until after Labor Day so health officials have more time to track cases and plan for widespread testing.

Blair also said digital learning should, however, be "as robust, effective, equitable and accessible as possible." He wants the district to make sure there is a digital learning standard that is streamlined, easy to understand and interactive.

"We must ensure that every student continues to receive a high-quality, standards-aligned instructional experience," Blair said. "We must also ensure that the expectations of digital learning and in-person instruction are balanced, flexible and feasible for our teachers and staff."

Blair is also calling on district officials to not only mandate students and employees wear face masks when in-person instruction does begin, but also provide those face masks.

Another step the board member is calling for is frequent COVID-19 testing, as well as temperature checks, to be conducted in schools.

Blair said the district should also expand access for students to loaned laptop devices and internet partnerships; bolster digital options the district offers through Gwinnett Online Campus and Georgia Virtual School; and make investments in technology that will enable staff to effectively lead digital learning as well as "safe in-person instruction."

"I lament that we have to make these decisions and recognize the many significant implications that come with these recommendations," Blair said. "Primary among these for me is that our most vulnerable students, for whom in-person instruction is the most ideal, might be those who disproportionately struggle with access to digital learning and whose parents might be the most financially impacted during this pandemic.

"Digital learning also continues to be challenging for K-2 early learners, students receiving special education services, English learners and others. Additional support and exceptions may need to be provided for extenuating circumstances."

Tuesday's meeting will be available for viewing live at www.gcpsk12.org and on GCPS-TV.

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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