Schools across Cherokee County, Georgia, have already asked 826 students and 42 faculty and staff members to quarantine themselves since the new school year began last week, according to a tally kept by the district.
Most of those who tested positive for COVID-19 in the district are students, although 10 are teachers and a couple are staff members.
Georgia schools have been under fire for opening classes fully without a mask mandate for the student body. Faculty and staff are required to wear masks, but public health experts maintain that face coverings are most effective when used by everyone in an enclosed space.
Viral images that emerged from reopened schools in Cherokee and Paulding counties last week showed packed hallways with few masks in sight.
One of the students who shared photos of the halls to social media received a swift suspension, which received nationwide coverage and was lifted a few days later.
How schools plan to approach the fall semester has been a topic of fierce public debate as parents, administrators and teachers weigh the risk of gathering in person during the coronavirus pandemic while acknowledging the essential services schools provide.
There are more than 30 individual schools, and some 42,000 students and 5,000 staff, in Cherokee County.
The district’s superintendent, Brian Hightower, issued a lengthy statement on Friday thanking his staff and stating that “photos are snapshots of a moment in time” that “don’t always tell the whole story.”
“We know we’re under a microscope, as national media follows the reopening of schools across the country. But know that our decisions are not based on what people in New York or Kansas think, nor are we concerned about ‘optics’ or ‘image’ ― we’re focused on what’s doing best for our community,” Hightower wrote.
Although Cherokee County offers some remote learning options, Hightower noted that the district “unfortunately cannot accommodate” the majority of new remote-learning requests from parents.
The district’s quarantine tally was last updated Monday evening and was first reported by local news outlets. It remained unchanged as of early Tuesday afternoon. The district provides updates after all relevant parties are notified of a new case.
When someone in an individual school falls ill, all parents at that school receive a letter, per district protocol, while parents of “close contacts” ― including students who sit near a person with COVID-19 ― receive “personalized contact” from the school.
On Monday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) ruled out ordering public schools to put a mask mandate in effect, saying that he trusted local leaders ― in contrast to his attacks on Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ efforts to mandate facial coverings in her city.
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