Cobb schools cancel in-person learning for next week

Coronavirus spike causes Cobb schools to close classrooms for rest of semester
Coronavirus spike causes Cobb schools to close classrooms for rest of semester

Due to a large number of students and staff diagnosed with COVID-19 or exposed to the illness, the Cobb County School District announced Friday it will cancel in-person learning next week for students.

The district will switch to remote-only learning Tuesday, Jan. 19 through Friday, Jan. 22. Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so Cobb schools will be closed. Students are tentatively scheduled to return to face-to-face learning on Monday, Jan. 25.

Cobb County schools said its decision follows “daily consultation with local and state public health officials regarding the high numbers of staff and students recently informed to quarantine.”

Cobb’s move comes days after Dr. Janet Memark, district director of Cobb & Douglas Public Health Department, encouraged parents to consider virtual learning due to the spike in COVID-19 cases in the county.

“This break will provide our families and staff an opportunity to quarantine and work together to fight COVID-19 from our homes by limiting large gatherings, enforcing social distancing, wearing a mask when social distancing is not possible, and regularly washing our hands,” the district said in a statement.

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News of the move to remote-only learning comes the same day that Cobb schools reported a rise in cumulative COVID-19 cases across the district, according to the system’s website that’s updated each Friday. As of Friday, 2,391 cases have been reported since July 1. That’s 470 more than 1,921 cases reported as of Jan. 8.

Each Cobb school is reporting fewer than 30 active cases, with Hillgrove and Lassiter high schools reporting the most at 25 and 22, respectively.

Elementary schools with the highest number of cumulative cases since Oct. 5 include: Kemp at 35; Kennesaw Primary at 27; Hayes at 26; Hendricks at 22; and Ford and Sanders at 20. Middle schools leading the pack are McCleskey at 48; McClure at 29; East Cobb at 26; Barber and Dodgen at 25; Dickerson at 24; and Lost Mountain, Lovinggood and Mabry at 21.

Walton leads the high schools with the highest number of cumulative cases with 63. It’s followed by Lassiter at 62; Hillgrove at 56; North Cobb at 54; Pope at 52;, McEachern at 50; Kell at 48; Kennesaw Mountain at 47; Harrison at 46; Allatoona at 36; Wheeler at 33; and Campbell at 31.

The district does not distinguish between student and staff numbers in its list of COVID-19 cases.

The spike in COVID-19 cases around Cobb has renewed parent and teacher calls for the district to cancel in-person learning. A petition created last week asking Ragsdale to close classrooms has received more than 6,300 signatures.

At least four Cobb teachers have been hospitalized after they were diagnosed with COVID-19: Patrick Key, Dana Johnson, Jacob Furse and Julia Varnedoe. Key died Christmas Day after a month-long battle with the illness. Both Furse and Varnedoe are recovering at home. Johnson, however, remains hospitalized at WellStar Paulding Hospital.

Furse, a Garrett Middle School teacher, said he’s thankful to see the district move to remote learning for all students.

“I hope that they continue to make data-driven decisions to keep not only our schools safe, but the community at large,” he said. “All of the teacher feedback I’ve seen so far has been an incredible relief that their safety is being considered as a factor.”

Marietta City Schools spokeswoman Jen Brock said the system has no plans to move to remote-only learning next week. The district recently hired more staff members in anticipation of any absences related to COVID-19, so it hasn’t experienced the “significant number of staff absences” seen in nearby districts, Brock said.

Cobb County schools says the week-long remote-only classrooms will allow students and staff the opportunity to return “better prepared to teach and learn in face-to-face and remote classrooms to honor the instructional delivery models our families have chosen.”

Cobb County Board of Education member Dr. Jaha Howard said he supports the district’s decision to move to remote learning.

“I am grateful for the staff, parents and students for making their voices heard,” he said. “I look forward to my children getting back to face-to-face instruction when it’s safe for everyone. Communication will be the key in the days ahead.”

Board member Charisse Davis added no matter how people feel about in-person vs. virtual learning, “we all need to acknowledge that in many instances, we cannot keep our schools open due to the sheer lack of adults in the building.”

“The COVID case rate is just too high,” she said. “Even if you’re not positive, you’ve likely been exposed to someone who is.”

Board Chairman Randy Scamihorn said the district’s decision to go remote for a “gives us the best chance to offer face-to-face and remote classrooms the rest of the school year.”

Fellow board member Tre Hutchins added he’s confident the district will continue using data to make operational decisions.

“I am hopeful that with this time to quarantine, we will have a safer environment to return to on Jan. 25 so that we can continue providing families the options they need,” he said.

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