COVID-19 outbreaks close multiple Cherokee schools until January

Woodstock High School is located on Towne Lake Hills South Drive in Cherokee County's city of Woodstock. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Woodstock High School is located on Towne Lake Hills South Drive in Cherokee County's city of Woodstock. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Cherokee County School District leaders announced Saturday that students will not physically return Monday for classes at three high schools.

Parents at River Ridge, Sequoyah and Woodstock high schools received letters saying virtual learning would begin Monday and that in-person classes would resume Wednesday, Jan. 6.

“In-person students will take their final exams at home online as scheduled from Tuesday, Dec. 15, through Friday, Dec. 18,” officials wrote to parents. “ ... The building(s) will be thoroughly sanitized over this weekend in advance of staff returning.”

The winter break, from Dec. 19 to Jan. 4, will continue as planned. Jan. 5 had already been set as an online learning day so schools can be used as polling places for the U.S. Senate runoff election.

Forsyth County Schools announced online Saturday that the district was moving high school instruction classes online for the remainder of 2020 because of “an increase in positive COVID-19 cases and direct exposures.” Those classes are also slated to resume Jan. 6.

In Cherokee, extracurricular athletics will continue after school “with additional safety measures in place, but continuation will be closely monitored for possible cancellation,” according to the letters.

This move means that half of all Cherokee public high schools are now closed to students.

In August, Cherokee was among the first school districts in the country to physically reopen following the initial March shutdowns. The district drew national attention when photos of unmasked students jammed together went viral online — and when cases quickly rose.

Recently, the district closed River Ridge High for two weeks last month because the cases levels were too high.

Officials wrote in the Saturday letters that, over the last two weeks:

» River Ridge High’s number of positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff has increased to 29 cases, and 285 of its 1,471 in-person student population is now under precaution quarantine.

» Sequoyah High‘s positive COVID-19 cases among students/staff increased to 23 cases, and 365 of its 1,708 in-person students population is now under a precautionary quarantine.

» Woodstock High’s positive COVID-19 cases of student/staff has been upped to 27 cases, and 476 of its 1,555 in-person students are under a precaution quarantine.

“We understand these closings create hardships and are disappointing to students and their families, but these are necessary measures to avoid potential spread within our schools,” officials wrote.

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Though the topic wasn’t on the agenda, 15 speakers voiced various opinions about a mask mandate during a Thursday school board meeting, per a district summary.

“We’re concerned about the surge,” said Superintendent Brian V. Hightower.

His solution? Suggesting a shift in the district’s messaging from “encouraging” and “strongly recommending” using masks when students can’t social distance to saying such mask usage was “expected.”

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