Woodstock High School on Wednesday became the second Cherokee County high school in two days to close because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, school system officials said.
At the end of school Tuesday, Etowah High School closed until Aug. 31, because of a high number of confirmed and possible COVID-19 cases, Cherokee County School District officials announced Tuesday. Woodstock High is being closed Wednesday and is also slated to reopen Aug. 31. Each School had 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than a dozen other people suspected of having the disease, but awaiting test results.
The decision was made to close the schools and have students transition to the school system’s Distance Learning online program, Superintendent Dr. Brain V. Hightower said in a statement.
“This decision was not made lightly; it was made with the support of school board members, and was determined, as all of our quarantine decisions are made, in consideration with the Department of Public Health,” Hightower said of the Etowah and Woodstock High closings in statements posted Tuesday and Wednesday on the district’s website.
Etowah teachers will begin online instruction for their students on Thursday, Hightower said. For Woodstock online instruction begins Friday.
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 novel coronavirus pandemic, which as of Wednesday had resulted in the deaths of 164,000 people in the U.S., 4,351 in Georgia and 64 in Cherokee County. According to the state Department of Public Health, Cherokee County has seen 974 new cases of COVID-19 over the past two weeks.
In-person school was the overwhelmingly popular choice among Cherokee County parents surveyed after the conclusion of last school year and officials in July approved a plan to reopen school campuses with procedures designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus in place.
“Since we’ve reopened, and as of this morning, there have been 59 positive COVID-19 tests confirmed among our students and staff, which have led us to mandate two-week quarantines for 925 students and staff,” Hightower said Tuesday. “We are not hesitating to quarantine students and staff who have had possible exposure – even if the positive test was prompted by possible exposure rather than symptoms, as all positive cases can lead to the infection of others.”
The system’s response plan for COVID-19 includes options to close individual classrooms, whole wings of schools, entire schools and the entire system if needed. Hightower said he remains hopeful in-person instruction can continue, but stressed that following precautions will be the key.
“We ask all students, staff and families to please continue to social distance and use masks when social distancing is not possible. While cases are predominately affecting our high schools and we anticipate the need for quarantines will continue to rise in them with the possibility of more high school closures, we also may see more of our middle schools and elementary schools require quarantines in the coming days and weeks,” Hightower said in announcing the Etowah closure on Tuesday. “As your Superintendent, I wear a mask whenever I cannot social distance. We know all parents do not believe the scientific research that indicates masks are beneficial, but I believe it and see masks as an important measure to help us keep schools open. It is our sincere belief and hope that following this guidance will help us keep our schools open for in-person learning.”
The school system has an online report updated regularly on the number of COVID-19 cases and people in quarantine on its website. As of Wednesday, Woodstock High School had 14 cases of COVID-19; Creekview High had nine cases; Cherokee High had eight cases; River Ridge High had one case; and Sequoyah High had none.
Extracurricular activities at Etowah and Woodstock will still be allowed during the closure, Hightower said. “This exception is due to the very limited size of these groups and additional safety measures in place (such as temporal scans), but continuation of athletics will be closely monitored for possible closure,” he said.