The Jefferson County Schools system will host the first nine weeks of the 2020-2021 academic year virtually, and its 36,000 students will spend at least a quarter of the school year learning from home.

The announcement from Alabama's second-largest school district came Tuesday afternoon when superintendent Walter Gonsoulin said "traditional," in-person classes will not be offered in the first nine weeks, and that the start date of the academic year will be pushed back one week to September 1st.

"I cannot justify sending children or employees back to school right now," he said in a letter to parents and staff. "It would put them in harm's way. The number of COVID-19 cases in our area is simply too high."

The decision affects 29 elementary schools, 11 middle schools, 13 high schools and three other campuses. The system teaches more than 36,000 students, and employs over 4,500 teachers, administrators and support staff.

"I know this issue has become largely divisive. Our own recent back-to-school survey illustrated the divide in our district, with 44 percent selecting traditional school and 56 percent selecting an online learning option," Gonsoulin said. "But let me be very clear on this next point: the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff is the priority."

Locally, the Tuscaloosa City School system has adopted the same approach and will host the first nine weeks of education virtually. The Tuscaloosa County School System has decided instead to hold classes as normal for all students whose families choose that option. 70 percent of their students, around 12,500 children, are expected to return to in-person instruction this month.


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