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 taken lightly,” Superintendent Brian Hightower said in a statement regarding the temporary suspension of personal lessons at Etowah High School. He said the high school had 14 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 15 pending tests since Tuesday morning.
“As a result of the confirmed cases, 294 students and staff are under quarantine and, if the pending tests are positive, that total will 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 quarantined staff, according to a district list.
Hightower warned that because coronavirus cases are mostly in district high schools, more of those schools could be closed.
The Cherokee County District – which has a record of 42,000, of which over 30,000 are receiving in-person instruction – recommends but does not require students to wear masks.
But the supervisor said in his statement that wearing masks could help prevent more schools from closing.
“As your Supervisor, I wear a mask whenever I can’t distance myself socially,” Hightower said. “We know that not all parents believe that scientific research shows that masks are beneficial, but I believe they do and see masks as an important measure to help keep schools open.”
“When we announced plans to reopen schools with personal learning and digital home learning opportunities, we clarified the challenges that came along with this choice for our families,” he said.
Before the schools reopened on August 3, some teachers and parents protested the district plan.
In July, dozens of demonstrators, including teachers, protested in front of a school board meeting, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting.
And some teachers resigned before the school year began 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 at this school, 1,500 will return in person – without a mandatory mask requirement,” Webb told the newspaper in late July, saying it scared him.
Another teacher said she was also concerned about the lack of a masked mandate, but planned to return to class.
“My personal fear is that I will die before my career ends, that this little virus is what will get me out, and not old age or some terrible accident,” science teacher Olivia Vacid told Tribune & Ledger News “I do not understand the county’s refusal to disguise the mandate for students”