A Georgia school district that does not require masks has closed a high school and now has over 1,100 students and staff in quarantine due to the coronavirus.
The Cherokee County School District, based in Canton about 40 miles north of Atlanta, made the announcement Tuesday, just eight days after its schools reopened.
“This decision was not made lightly,” Superintendent Brian Hightower said in a statement about the temporary halt to in-person instruction at Etowah High School. He said the high school had 14 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 15 tests pending as of Tuesday morning.
“As a result of the confirmed cases, 294 students and staff are under quarantine and, should the pending tests prove positive, that total would increase dramatically,” the superintendent said.
In total, the district has 59 confirmed cases of the virus, Hightower said.
It also has 1,156 students and 37 staff in quarantine, according to a district list.
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Hightower warned that because the coronavirus cases are predominantly at the district’s high schools more of those schools could be closed.
The Cherokee County district — which has an enrollment of 42,000, of whom over 30,000 are receiving in-person instruction — recommends but does not require students to wear masks.
But the superintendent said in his statement that wearing masks may help prevent the closure of more schools.
“As your Superintendent, I wear a mask whenever I cannot social distance,” Hightower said. “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.”
“When we announced plans to reopen schools with options of in-person learning and Digital Learning at home, we made clear the challenges that came along with this choice for our families,” he said.
Prior to the reopening of schools on Aug. 3, some teachers and parents protested the district’s plan.
In July, dozens of demonstrators, including teachers, protested outside a school board meeting, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting.
And some teachers resigned before the school year started due to safety concerns, according to the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News.
One of them was teacher Allison Webb, who worked at Sequoyah High School.
“Out of 2,000 students in this school, 1,500 will be returning in person — without a mandatory mask requirement,” Webb told the news outlet in late July, saying this frightened her.
Another teacher said she was also concerned about the lack of a mask mandate, but planned to return to the classroom.
“My personal fear is that I’m going to die before my career is over, that this tiny virus is what’s going to take me out, and not old age or some horrific accident,” science teacher Olivia Vacid told the Tribune & Ledger News. “I don’t understand the county’s refusal to mandate masking for students”