On Wednesday Sept. 1, Clarke County School District administration announced that Cedar Shoals High School, Clarke Central High School, Classic City High School and Athens Community Career Academy would pivot to a virtual learning environment for the week of Sept. 6.
“During the pause, we plan to provide additional and updated training around our COVID-19 responses for our staff. Deep cleaning and sanitation of all classrooms as well as high traffic areas will take place, too. Additionally, we will be onboarding and training more staff to help manage our processes and to assist with contact tracing,” Superintendent Dr. Xernona Thomas and CCSD School Board President Dr. Lakeisha Gantt wrote in an email to high school staff, students and families.
Monday, Sept. 6, will remain a student holiday, and Tuesday, Sept. 7, will be an asynchronous learning day for students, followed by a mix of synchronous and asynchronous instruction the rest of the week.
“Tuesday is really going to provide teachers an opportunity to adjust their lessons, because it is very different having to do things by Zoom rather than in person,” Associate Principal for Instruction Dr. Melissa Perez Rhym said. “And then if there are any technology needs that we weren’t able to meet today for the students such as distributing hotspots or fixing laptops, it gives us that buffer before having to make a complete transition to virtual learning.”
Cedar Shoals faculty were informed before the school day ended, and some teachers relayed the information to their classes before the official system wide notification. A faculty meeting was held after school to clarify the news to Cedar Shoals staff and address questions.
Teachers like Randall Priest, science department, who says half of one of his classes is quarantined, believes the decision to go virtual for a week was the right decision.
“I think we should be virtual. The issue for me is that if we had to be virtual for a week, what’s going to stop it from happening again? So, I think it only affects four days of school as opposed to five. Us getting to the 10 (days) with the break, the thinking is good, but I just don’t understand how we can go virtual, and then come back to school, knowing that it’ll probably happen again. I don’t think anything is going to change,” Priest said.
Dr. Margaret Morgan, math department, was relieved to hear the news about next week. Morgan knows that through her preparations and online teaching techniques, including already providing a Zoom link for students that have had to quarantine due to close contacts or positive cases, she should be able to continue class at a steady pace.
“I’m not surprised that this is happening. The entire year, I’ve been like ‘Okay we’re gonna learn how to use this technology.’ I’ve been doing a lot of the same things that I did last year. We have the work sessions in Zoom and Desmos,” Morgan said. “So that’s already all built so that when this happened, it is not a huge change for me.”
For students like senior Stephanie De La Cruz, this news was not a surprise. As confirmed COVID-19 cases continued to grow throughout the district, with a rise of 526 cases in the last 30 days, De La Cruz was glad that the CCSD administration decided to take precautions.
“I was happy (about the decision) because I know that there’s been a lot of spread of COVID, and I know I just want to stay away from it,” De La Cruz said. “I’m not afraid (of COVID-19) for me but more for my family because I do have grandmas at home and their immune systems are weak.”
Others didn’t share the same sense of relief. For junior Dillon Ross, the news brings worries about his academic success.
“I saw the (BluePrints) Instagram post, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, not another one of these.’ After the first two weeks (of this school year), I was really afraid of this happening, but I wish they kept going with school and if people have their masks down and aren’t vaccinated, then that’s their problem,” Ross said.
The Cedar Shoals homecoming football game has been cancelled for next week, although sports will continue to practice. Priest is concerned not only about how high school sports will affect case numbers, but also about how community decisions will impact Cedar’s ability to continue in-person instruction regularly.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Athens-Clarke County there were 723 total cases from Aug. 25 to Aug. 31, or 563.39 cases per 100,000. In the seven days preceding Sept. 1, there were 129 patients newly admitted to the hospital, up from 85 admissions the previous seven days. In the same week, three people died of COVID-19 in ACC.
“The nurse herself said that contact tracing cannot be done accurately, and I get why it can’t be done accurately. But if we can’t do it accurately then why are we here? We will host 100,000 people next weekend for the UGA first home game. It’s not just about the school, it’s about the community we live in. So if you have a high risk community that’s about to be exposed to 100,000 people, a lot of which are not vaccinated, a lot of which are not going to wear masks, what are the numbers after that weekend going to look like?” Priest said.