At least three Georgia school districts are ceasing in-person instruction until after Thanksgiving because of coronavirus spread among teachers and students, while at least nine other districts have closed at least one school.
Among districts that have closed are Cook County in south Georgia, McDuffie County west of Augusta and Walker County in northwest Georgia.
Districts that have closed at least one school include Bibb County, Brantley County, Cherokee County, Clarke County, Fulton County, Lanier County, Monroe County, Richmond County and Ware County.
“I think that any time we lose face-to-face instruction, that’s a concern,” said state school Superintendent Richard Woods, an elected Republican. “I think that’s the best way to make sure we are where we need to be academically.”
Unlike in some other states, the vast majority of Georgia districts serving the state’s 1.8 million students have been offering in-person instruction, although a minority of families have elected to keep their students home for virtual learning. Some districts, including Atlanta, DeKalb County and Clayton County, have remained fully online.
COVID-19 cases in Georgia have been increasing steadily since early October in children ages 10-17, typically the ages of middle school and high school students.
Georgia has reported more than 430,000 confirmed and probable cases as of Wednesday, and at least 9,065 confirmed and probable deaths. There were 1,755 confirmed COVID-19 patients in Georgia hospitals Wednesday.
The state Department of Education said it’s not keeping an official list of which schools close because of rising COVID-19 cases.
“Right now, schools and districts are making those decisions to close based on the regulations set by the Department of Public Health,” Woods said.
In Cook County, officials are closing schools Thursday and will not resume instruction until Dec. 3, later than planned.
Cook County Superintendent Tim Dixon told WTXL-TV being off that week will give students and employees extra time to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms after Thanksgiving. The 3,100-student district had 16 students test positive for the coronavirus and 12 positive tests among staff, with more than 430 students already in quarantine.
“Is that a magical number?” Dixon said of the extended break days. “No. But we felt like that would be better than coming back on Monday.”
In Walker County, Superintendent Damon Raines told parents the district would be closed this week and go to a hybrid format for the remaining weeks between Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christmas holiday.
“Over the past two weeks, we have seen a surge across the district due to factors outside of the school buildings and our control,” Raines wrote to parents. “This has caused a spike in positive cases, the associated close-contact quarantines, and the need for many teachers to stay home and provide necessary child care due to positive or quarantined students or closed daycare facilities.”
The McDuffie County system said it will conduct online classes during the closure and will monitor countywide infection levels and employee infections before deciding whether to extend its closure past Nov. 29.
In Ware County, the district closed its two middle schools, citing staff shortages, with teaching continuing online. The district is closing all its schools Friday to clean them.