Georgia district has quarantined more than 800 students

Classroom desk (file photo)
Posted at 1:50 PM, Aug 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-11 13:50:52-04

CANTON, Ga. (AP) -- A Georgia school district has quarantined more than 800 students because of possible exposure to the coronavirus since it resumed in-person teaching last week, officials said Tuesday.

The Cherokee County School District has also quarantined 42 staff members since the start of the year on Aug. 3, according to data the district posted online. Located about 30 miles (58 kilometers) north of Atlanta, the district serves more than 42,000 students.

News of the quarantines came a day after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said that the reopening of some of the state's schools amid the coronavirus outbreak has gone well -- except for the widely shared photos of students crowded together without masks.

The viral photos showed students standing shoulder to shoulder in crowded hallways at North Paulding High School northwest of Atlanta and squeezed together for first-day-of-school senior photos at two high schools in Cherokee County, including Etowah, which has had 296 students and eight staff members told to quarantine. None of the students in the photos wore masks.

Democrats strongly pushed back against Kemp's assessment that school reopenings were proceeding safely, blaming him and President Donald Trump for failures.

Fifty students, teachers and staff members in the Cherokee County School District have tested positive for the virus so far, though it's not clear whether any of them were infected at school.

"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," a spokeswoman for the district, Barbara Jacoby, said in an email. "We are not hesitating to quarantine students and staff who have had possible exposure to a student or staff member who has tested positive."

The quarantines have affected 19 schools in the district. Closing a school is an option that the district will continue to consider, Jacoby said.

The district gave parents the option of sending their children to school or having them learn from home to start the year. Jacoby said about 9,600 students are learning from home.

Other Atlanta-area school districts decided to scrap in-person learning for virtual instruction after cases of COVID-19 in Georgia began spiking again.

Cherokee opened without a mask mandate for students, though staff must wear masks when they are unable to maintain social distance.

More than 80 Georgia school districts have opened or plan to open for some kind of in-person instruction by Aug. 17, according to figures kept by school reform group GeorgiaCAN.