After only one week of school, more than 250 students and teachers from one Georgia school district will be asked to quarantine for two weeks after several teachers and students tested positive for COVID-19, according to the district's website.
Cherokee County School District, which is just north of Atlanta, is sharing regular updates on coronavirus cases in its schools on its website.
As of Friday, at least 11 students, ranging in age from first to 12th grade, and two staff members from various elementary, middle and high schools, have tested positive for the virus, prompting the school to send almost 250 students and staff home for 14 days because of possible exposure. The students will receive online instruction during the period.
Alex DeBord told USA TODAY his son was among those sent home to quarantine for two weeks – a disappointing start to his kindergarten year.
“He started school on Monday and sent home on Wednesday,” DeBord said. After a summer mostly away from friends and marked by chores, it was tough to spend only a few days in the classroom for the boy: “School was like getting away.”
The district has 40 schools and centers, 4,800 employees and more than 42,200 students.
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In a letter to families on Friday, Superintendent Brian Hightower said that the trend of students and staff testing positive every day "will continue as we operate schools during a pandemic."
"We know we're under a microscope, as national media follows the reopening of schools across the country," he wrote. "But know that our decisions are not based on what people in New York or Kansas think, nor are we concerned about 'optics' or 'image' – we're focused on what's doing best for our community."
He also stressed the need for taking extra measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
"As we said before reopening, social distancing is not possible in all situations at our schools – this is why we require our staff to wear masks or face shields when they cannot distance, and this is why we're providing masks to students and strongly recommending they wear them," Hightower said. "This is a critical component to keeping schools open."
Cherokee County had drawn attention this week after dozens of seniors were seen gathering at two of the district's high schools to take traditional first-day-of-school photos, with students squeezing together with none of them wearing masks.
Parents in the district understand the scrutiny – and seriousness of the virus, said DeBord, who knows people with underlying conditions who died after getting sick.
But he and others support the decisions of local school officials, who he says are trying their best to balance health concerns with the benefits of in-person education. They deserve support, not judgment or ridicule, he believes.
That's an opinion echoed by Holly Edge Rylee, a teacher in a neighboring school district who has a first grade son attending school in Cherokee County.
COVID-19 has hit her family hard – 10 in the family have gotten sick, and she recovered from it herself. She says her son did not get sick.
But she is eager to welcome students back to the classroom when her district starts later in August.
She appreciates districts in the area that are allowing parents to choose in-person or virtual options, saying she knows how vitally important in-person education is to some students' well-being.
“At the same time, it’s very scary” to think about sending your loved ones back into the classroom, she acknowledges.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID: Georgia school district send 250 students, staff to quarantine