A school district in Georgia that does not require masks has closed a high school and now has more than 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 taken lightly,” Superintendent Brian Hightower said in a statement regarding the temporary end of in-person teaching at Etowah High School. He said the high school had 14 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 15 tests pending Tuesday morning.
“Due to the confirmed cases, 294 students and staff are in quarantine and, if the pending tests prove positive, that total would increase dramatically,” the director said.
In total, the district has 59 confirmed cases of the virus, Hightower said.
It also has 1,156 students and 37 quarantined staff, according to a district list.
Hightower warned that since coronavirus cases mostly occur in high schools in the district, more of these schools could be closed.
The Cherokee County District – which has 42,000 registrants, of whom more than 30,000 receive in-person instruction – recommends but does not require students to wear masks.
But the principal said in his statement that wearing masks can help prevent more schools from closing.
“As your superintendent, I wear a mask whenever I can’t distance myself,” Hightower said. “We know that not all parents believe the scientific research that indicates masks are beneficial, but I believe so and consider masks to be an important measure to help us keep schools open.”
“When we announced plans to reopen schools with in-person and digital home learning options, we made it clear the challenges that came with that choice for our families,” he said.
Before the schools reopened on August 3, some teachers and parents protested the district’s plan.
In July, dozens of protesters, including teachers, demonstrated outside a school board meeting, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting.
And some teachers quit before the start of the school year for safety reasons, 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 at this school, 1,500 will return in person – with no mask required,” Webb told the newspaper in late July, saying it scared him.
Another teacher said she was also concerned about the lack of a mask warrant, but planned to return to class.
“My personal fear is that I will die before the end of my career, that this little virus is what will bring me out, not old age or a horrible accident,” said Olivia Vacid, science professor at Tribune & Ledger News. “I don’t understand the county’s refusal to make masking mandatory for students”