The front sign of Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary shows a message about virtual learning on Sept. 24, 2020 in Athens, Georgia. Clarke County School District, like many school districts across the country, found ways to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic by teaching students from a distance using an array of engagement methods. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com

Elementary and middle school students can return to the classroom in the Clarke County School District beginning Nov. 9, the district announced in a letter to parents Friday. The last time students and teachers shared a classroom was before spring break in March.

Families with students in grades pre-K through eighth have the options of in-person or virtual instruction. High school students will have to wait, as a return date has yet to be determined. 

Registration for in-person or virtual school is due Oct. 18 through the parent portal. If no preference is given, students will automatically be enrolled to attend in-person. 

“Based on the decreased COVID-19 numbers in Athens-Clarke County, the Clarke County School District believes it is in our students’ best interest to return in person to provide the highest level of academic and social support,” superintendent Xernona Thomas said in the email. 

This summer, CCSD Director of Nursing Amy Roark said in-person classes would only resume if the county recorded less than 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people with a positivity rate below 5%. 

In the past two weeks, Athens-Clarke County reported 197 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people with a positivity rate of 3.9%, according to the Georgia Department of Health. 

Beth Moore, the district’s communication manager, said on Sept. 24 that CCSD had revised its initial goal based on updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The tone of the community shifted once school started, Moore said. Instead of fear over returning to the classroom, parents now complained via email about the burden of online school. 

CCSD will mandate masks and will have a full-time nurse stationed at each school. Friday’s announcement didn’t include a plan to test students and staff. The district has at least 1,700 gallons of hand sanitizer and 40,000 face coverings available for giveaway, Chief of Operations Dexter Fisher said in an August town hall. 

Families intending on returning to the classroom need to indicate whether or not their student requires bus transportation. Bus drivers have been driving empty buses since school started to deliver meals to students.