Busy Georgia school reports positive cases

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DALLAS, GA. – A total of nine students and staff at a high school in Georgia have tested positive for the coronavirus, the principal said in a letter to parents after the school made headlines for photos online showing hallways full of teenagers – many of them not wearing masks. Principal Gabe Carmona wrote on Saturday that six students and three staff at North Paulding High School in west Atlanta have tested positive for COVID-19. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported obtaining the letter from the principal of a spokesperson for the Paulding County School District.

The infected students and staff members were inside the school building “for a while” last week, according to Carmona’s letter. He said the school was disinfecting the building, but it was not clear whether the school would quarantine other students and staff who may have been exposed.

Meanwhile, officials from a school in a neighboring metro county of Atlanta reported that 12 students and two staff at a dozen schools tested positive for the virus during their first week back to school. The Cherokee County School System reported that more than 250 potentially exposed students were sent home to quarantine for two weeks.

“We have students and staff reporting suspected, pending and positive COVID-19 tests every day, and this will continue as we run schools during a pandemic,” the Cherokee County school principal wrote , Brian Hightower, in a letter to parents on Friday.

Cherokee County also gained attention because of the photos online. Dozens of students from two of his high schools gathered to take photos of the first day of school. None wore masks.

Hightower said in his letter that many of the older people in those photos online “wear masks regularly” – although schools do not need them. He also said the school system was taking “extra steps for transparency.” In addition to the principal’s letter, the school system has posted information about all confirmed infections and quarantines on its website.

North Paulding High School made headlines last week after photos posted on social media showed crowded hallways and unmasked faces.

Paulding County Superintendent Brian Ottot said photos of the crowded hallways were accurate, but also said the district was following state guidelines and students needed more than a few minutes in the room to catch the virus from others.

Ottot defended the district’s decision not to require masks. He wrote that wearing a mask “is a personal choice and there is no practical way to enforce the mandate to wear it.”

Hannah Watters, a student at North Paulding, was suspended last week for taking a photo and video of the school and sharing them with news outlets. The suspension was dropped on Friday.

The 30,000 students in Paulding County were offered a distance learning option. About 30% of students chose e-learning. Cherokee County school officials said 22% of the district’s 42,200 students chose to start the year with online classes.

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