In Paulding County, photos of students taken Monday and Tuesday show crowded hallways at North Paulding High School in Dallas. Less than half of the students represented wear masks.
Critics have widely derided the images on social media, although some county residents have expressed support.
Georgia’s largest school district, Gwinnett County, said on Tuesday it hopes to gradually return to face-to-face teaching after starting distance education. All students looking for in-person classes could be welcome by September 8, which Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks wrote is a “best case.”in the county reported testing positive for or exposed to the virus.
Georgia hit a new weekly high for COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, having recorded an average of 51 confirmed deaths from respiratory illness in the past seven days. Few die of the disease, and only a relatively small fraction get sick enough to be hospitalized.
Newly confirmed cases remain high, but have tended to decline over the past week, as has the share of positive tests. Both could indicate that the current outbreak in Georgia has peaked. The number of people with COVID-19 in hospitals in Georgia reached all-time highs last week, but declined slightly.
Paulding County Superintendent Brian Ottot in an email sent Tuesday said the images were accurate, but 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 wrote that class changes are “a challenge” and that “this is an area that we continue to work on in this new environment to find practical ways to further prevent students from coming together,” he said. He added, “There’s no doubt the photo doesn’t look good. ”
Ottot defended the district’s decision not to require masks, writing that “Wearing a mask is a personal choice and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them. ”
At least one football player from North Paulding has tested positive for coronavirus in recent days, among hundreds of Georgian athletes confirmed with infections.
Cherokee County School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said the photos were not sanctioned activity and officials only became aware of them when the photos were posted to social media. She did not say why the staff members were not present or did not break up the groups. An Instagram account associated with Sequoyah High School shared the photo, writing “Welcome Back !!!” But the image was later deleted.
“Like every first day of school, students and parents took photos of the ‘first day’ before school started outside of schools – some photos were of students with masks, others of students. not wearing masks, ”Jacoby wrote in an email.
Jacoby wrote that the district continues to “strongly encourage and recommend that all students stay away and, when they cannot, wear masks inside school and on buses.”
Cherokee County officials later announced that a student at Sixes Elementary School near Canton tested positive for the virus. The child’s teacher and 20 other students were sent home to quarantine and learned online for 14 days.
“We continue to encourage all parents to scan the temperature and closely monitor students for any signs of potential illness,” principal Ashley Kennerly wrote in a letter to parents, WGCL reported.
Superintendent Brian Hightower had previously angered some teachers with a Friday email that some interpreted as suggesting they quit if they had problems with COVID-19.
“For those of you who are unhappy with the various facets of our plan to reopen, I ask you to think about the best direction for you in your role at CCSD,” Hightower wrote.
On Saturday, Hightower wrote another email saying that he had heard from ‘several’ employees and that he ‘should have done a much better job in sharing my appreciation for your efforts and concerns regarding reopening our school”.
Cherokee and Paulding were the largest districts in Georgia to resume full education five days a week on Monday. Both offer parents the option of five-day-a-week classes or online learning. In Paulding, 30% of students chose e-learning, while 22% chose it in Cherokee.
Gwinnett County has announced it will begin fully virtual education on August 12. Gwinnett and Cobb County, which also announced virtual education, have faced protests from parents demanding in-person lessons.
The Gwinnett District, which has 180,000 students, said on Tuesday it may seek to bring kindergarten, first graders, sixth graders and first graders back to school on August 26. secondary school and some students in special education. online course.
“The safety of students and staff will be the primary factor in determining the pace at which we move forward,” Wilbanks wrote, adding that changes may be needed “based on the still fluid situation of COVID-19”.
Cobb County District, which has 111,000 students, and Fulton County District, which has 94,000 students, are also discussing phased returns. Both say the decisions will be based on the levels of COVID-19 cases and have not proposed a date.
“We continue to believe that the face-to-face classroom is the best classroom environment for most students and we remain committed to providing parents with both face-to-face and remote classroom choice,” Cobb wrote in an announcement Tuesday.