As of Wednesday, Cherokee County had 3,707 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 65 deaths and 350 hospitalizations, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
System spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said decisions to close schools are made on a case-by-case basis, with consideration given to public health needs and whether the district has the staffing necessary to keep a school open.
Etowah High drew national attention last week after scores of students without masks were pictured shoulder to shoulder in a group photo on the first day of the fall semester. The photograph, along with pictures of crowded hallways at nearby North Paulding High School, have drawn national attention, with health experts warning that the lack of masks and social distancing could contribute to the virus spreading.
North Paulding High School, where leaked photographs showed crowded hallways and few masks, will return to campus part-time under a new plan to control the spread of the coronavirus. The school was closed last week after a half-dozen students and three staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
The Cherokee County School District, which has more than 42,000 students, began the new year Aug. 3 with both in-person and remote learning for students. Jacoby said the system did not mandate masks or face coverings for students, but “strongly recommended and encouraged” them to wear masks when they can not socially distance. Students who returned to in-person classes were provided two reusable masks, Jacoby said.
Educators and other staffers are required to wear masks when they can’t socially distance. Jacoby added the system provided plastic face shields to educators who requested the additional barrier. Cherokee County schools are “continuously reviewing our protocols” and will inform students, parents and staff when any significant changes are made, Jacoby told the AJC.
Hightower said closing both high schools are “necessary precautions as we work to continue in-person learning in our other 38 schools and centers.” He said he expects additional school closures and quarantines to occur throughout the year.
“We are committed to offering in-person learning as long as it’s sustainable, and that means quickly responding to positive cases and not hesitating to mandate quarantines and, when needed, require individual school closures,” he said.
Many parents and followers of the school district’s Facebook page praised the system for regularly updating the public about its confirmed coronavirus cases.
One parent said she is new to the school district and seeing the decision to close Etowah High School for only two weeks was reassuring to her children.
However, some also called on the district to mandate masks for students and to consider reducing class sizes. At least one person asked if the district will make any changes to reduce the chances of another school closure.
The district has two websites where students and parents can find the latest information about COVID-19 cases in schools. One site includes a tally of positive cases and students and staff quarantined, and is updated every time a notification letter to sent to all parents of a particular school. The other page, which is updated each Friday, lists how many students and staff are absent from school due to positive tests.