If you want to see how tricky opening schools to in-person learning can be during the Covid crisis, all you need to do is drive 50 miles to Schley County.
And Tuesday just proved the point.
Schley County started the school year on Aug. 5 with a combination of in-person and virtual classes. Nearly 80 percent of the 1,250 students took the in-person option.
Because of six positive COVID test in the middle/high school, in-person classes were canceled over the weekend. That put the nearly 700 older students all virtual.
On Tuesday, the elementary school was still holding in-person classes. By the end of the day, Superintendent Brian Hall made the decision to go all virtual. One K-5 student had tested positive.
Hall says there is nowhere to turn for advice as schools navigate these uncharted waters.
“We’re talking about people who have been in education for 30 or 40 years and you call them, and they say, ‘I have no idea,’ Hall said. “… Nobody has a good read on it because there are so many reads.”
Things changed quickly in this county of 5,300 people. On July 24th, the Friday before teachers reported, there had only been 35 cases in the county since the crisis began back in March. Today, the number has almost doubled to 69. And there are test results pending.
“Within a two-week time our numbers looked totally different than when we were making all of our plans and initiating our plans,” Hall said.
There are more than 1,200 students in Schley County and the school district employs about 135 people. The schools touch this rural community in a broad and meaningful way.
There are a lot of deep opinions about how to wade through this mess.
“If there is one thing this pandemic has shown is there are differences of opinion and isolation,” Hall said. “Not being able to come together and talk about it has made for divisiveness and created a beast. … You are trying to pull things together, but you are constantly being pulled apart.”
What advice does Hall have for other districts making the same decisions he is?
“The best advice I can give them is be prepared for anything because everything you planned for is going to change,” Hall said. “And make sure above everything else that your public health officials — DPH — they need to be holding your hand the whole time.”