Local schools will remain open, for now
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Grady County Schools are continuing to be aggressive in the number of students they send home to quarantine due to potential exposure to the coronavirus, and this week the number reached an all-time high of more than 400 while the number of positive students inched up during the second week of school after Christmas break. Dr. Kermit Gilliard, superintendent of Grady County Schools, says the post-holiday surge was expected.
Gilliard says, “As predicted by the experts, we are seeing an increase due to our two weeks out during Christmas. While our quarantine numbers are 10 percent of our student population, our positive students are a much smaller number.”
As of Tuesday, there were 452 of the system’s 4,521 students on quarantine, and 23 students covid-positive, according to Gilliard. That’s compared to last week’s 125 on quarantine and 18 positive.
Among the staff, there were 29 on quarantine this week and 13 covid-positive, he said Tuesday. Last week, there were 35 staff on quarantine and 18 positive.
The school system has had high numbers of students on quarantine previously, but none as high as this week. The first week of October, 256 were on quarantine, and the week of Thanksgiving, the number was 164.
Before the last two weeks, the number of positive students has never been higher than 10, which was recorded the week of Thanksgiving. Every other week during Fall 2020, the number of students with positive cases has been in the single digits.
The 18 students who had positive cases as of last week must have all contracted the virus while on Christmas break since there wasn’t time to catch the virus and test positive by the second day of school after the holiday.
Members of the Grady County Board of Education are hearing from constituents nervous about the rising number of cases here.
During their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night, board member Gerald Goosby said that he had received numerous phone calls from school system personnel voicing general concern with the increasing numbers.
Dr. Gilliard stated as long as the system had sufficient staff to operate the schools his intention was to keep in-person learning open within the traditional school building.
Goosby asked, “If the numbers continue to increase, do we have a plan to go back to virtual?”
“My concern is the spikes we are seeing, and those we have seen in the past, have followed periods when the schools have been closed. Our children are safer in school and the data shows that,” Dr. Gilliard said.
The superintendent said that it would not be fair to the approximately 4,100 children who are at school to be sent home because about 400 others are currently in quarantine.
“If parents have concerns, then they should keep their child at home,” Dr. Gilliard said.
In addressing Goosby’s concerns, Dr. Gilliard noted that approximately 25 percent of local students do not have access to high-speed internet to be able to participate in virtual learning and another 25 percent that do have access won’t go virtual.
Outgoing board chairwoman, Teresa Gee Hardy, voiced support in keeping schools open. “We knew the numbers were going to go up after the holidays, but the experts are predicting they will begin to drop as early as next week. We will just have to wait and see,” she said.
Newly elected board chairman, Derrick Majors, noted that none of those who have tested positive for the virus contracted the virus at a Grady County school.
“I believe that if we close school we will create another spike since most students and parents do not stay home when not in school. We will continue to seek advice from the local and district Public Health offices as we monitor our numbers,” Gilliard told this newspaper after the meeting.
Board member Goosby asked if there was a way to fast track vaccinations for school system employees. Dr. Gilliard said it was unlikely the state’s governor would put teachers at the front of the line, but that public health officials have said school system personnel likely could begin receiving the vaccine by February.
Goosby also asked if the use of facial masks was being enforced in the local schools. Both Dr. Gilliard and Hardy said that in their visits to local schools students are wearing masks in the classroom and in common areas.