Three Cherokee County high schools closed because of outbreaks of COVID-19 are scheduled to reopen Thursday under a hybrid instruction model.

Under the hybrid system about half the student body of each school would attend classes Thursday and Friday, while the rest continue online learning from home. Then on Monday and Tuesday of next week, the other half of students would attend in-person classes.

Creekview, Etowah and Woodstock high schools closed within a few days of each other in early August after each saw outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the subject of a global pandemic since late winter.

“By keeping half of the students home at a time, and separating their exposure to each other by at least three days, we hope this hybrid model will reduce the need for two-week precautionary quarantines and school closures,” Superintendent Brian V. Hightower said in a school system newsletter published Tuesday. “This model will not reduce positive cases or eliminate quarantines — as long as we’re in a pandemic and aren’t sheltering in place, we’ll continue to see cases in our community and schools. It’s also important to note that while masks reduce transmission and we support wearing them, masks are not a waiver from the need to quarantine.”

The hybrid model will remain in place at these three high schools until at least Oct. 9, which is the last day of the first nine-week grading period. “An announcement will be made as soon as possible as to what operations will look like after Oct. 9; this decision will be made for each school individually based on the state of public health in each school community,” Hightower said.

School system officials outlined specifics of what the hybrid schedule will look like in a written statement:

♦ Through the hybrid model, students will study the same content each day with one group learning in-person, and the other completing work at home.

♦ On at-home learning days, students will be expected to log into the Canvas learning management system daily and complete all assigned work on time.

♦ On Wednesdays, all students will learn at home; and, on that day, 30-minute Microsoft Teams meetings will be held for each class, with all students attending together virtually.

♦ School bus routes will run on all in-person instruction days.

♦ To-go bags of breakfasts and lunches will be available for the days students are not attending in-person classes.

Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, families served by Cherokee County School District were given the choice before school started Aug. 3 to send their children to schools for in-person instruction, or start the year online. Almost a quarter of students were signed up for the online option. The system serves more than 42,000 students total.

Cherokee County schools and other systems across the state closed campuses and instituted online learning in March in response to the pandemic.

In-person school was the overwhelmingly popular choice among Cherokee County parents surveyed after the conclusion of last school year and school board members in July endorsed a plan to reopen school campuses with procedures designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus in place.

The system’s response plan for COVID-19 includes options to close individual classrooms, whole wings of schools, entire schools, school zones and the entire system if needed. The hybrid attendance model becomes another tool to use as needed to navigate instruction during the pandemic, officials said.

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Managing Editor

Gary Tanner is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune, Cherokee Ledger-News and Cherokee Life magazine. He has been working as a journalist since 1985.

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