Updated at 5:10 p.m. Tuesday
More than 800 students and 42 staff members in the Cherokee County School District are in quarantine so far after possible exposure to the coronavirus. The school system reopened last week. Families could choose in-person learning or opt for remote learning — 25% of students began the year virtually.
Photos of some Cherokee students crowded together without face coverings went viral last week. The district requires staff to wear masks, but not students.
During a press call this week, Georgia Democratic Party leaders condemned Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s handling of the pandemic. Chairwoman Nikema Williams said schools could be in a different position if Kemp had shut businesses down longer.
“Instead of reopening schools safely in August, Brian Kemp opened bars and bowling alleys in May,” Williams said.
When asked this week if he would issue a statewide mask mandate for schools, Kemp said he’ll leave those decisions up to local districts.
“Like most things in education, I’m a firm believer that the local governments know their school better than the state government does,” Kemp said. “We’ve been handling things that way for a long time.”
Cherokee County has been publicly reporting cases after schoolwide letters are sent to parents.
District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby issued the following statement about schools reopening:
“As made clear in our Reopening of School Plan, we anticipated positive tests among students and staff could occur, which is why we put a system into place to quickly contact trace, mandate quarantines, notify parents and report cases, and quarantines to the entire community. We are not hesitating to quarantine students and staff who have had possible exposure to a student or staff member who has tested positive. We are closely monitoring for connections between cases as well as staffing levels at schools. The closure of a school is an option noted in our reopening plan that will continue to be considered.”
Update: Cherokee County School District Superintendent Brian Hightower said the district was temporarily shutting down Etowah High School starting Wednesday and hoped to reopen the school Aug. 31, The Associated Press reports.