With the first day of school just days away in Lumpkin County, the school system is already taking a hit as it puts the finishing touches on plans for the new school year.
According to school officials, 25 staff members from across the five schools in the district and its central office have tested positive for COVID-19, with four more awaiting results, as of Thursday afternoon.
“We have had some positive cases during pre-planning as we had predicted,” school superintendent Dr. Rob Brown told The Nugget. “...With almost 500 employees returning back to work just weeks ago, we really didn't know what to expect in terms of the virus spreading.”
An official count as of Thursday listed eight positive cases at Blackburn Elementary School, six at Long Branch Elementary School, four at Lumpkin County Elementary School, three at Lumpkin County Middle School and two at Lumpkin County High School, according to tracking information provided by the school system at The Nugget’s request. Two additional cases were listed as employees at either the county office or in maintenance.
As students and staff prepare to return to school on Monday, Brown and school staff say they will continue to keep a close eye on the situation.
“We are monitoring our data closely and when comparing our spread rate to that of other counties in our area, we have very low numbers of spread in the past two weeks,” Brown said. “We realize this could change quickly, so we will continue to track the data daily.”
However, some families decided to take matters into their own hands and opt out of traditional school and instead enrolled in the system’s virtual offering. According to Nathan Gerrells, assistant principal at Long Branch Elementary who co-lead the focus group on virtual school, school principals had the discretion to continue allowing families to switch their students into virtual school past the July 23 deadline. The number of students enrolled in virtual school is now up to 630, an estimated 17% of the school district and an increase of 30 students since the official deadline.
Brown said the schools will begin notifying parents of positive cases once school begins.
“When school begins, we will be notifying parents if a student and/or staff member in their class tests positive for COVID-19,” Brown said. “In addition, we will be working closely with our Health Department to ensure contact tracing is completed quickly when test results are known. Only those individuals who have been considered directly exposed will be required to quarantine.”
According to Brown, teachers and staff will have access to quicker results for COVID-19 testing.
“We have communicated with a local healthcare provider who is helping school system employees expedite the testing process and results have been coming back quicker in recent days than we were experiencing before,” he said.
When asked if all staff members would be tested before school starts, Brown said that the school “[does] not have the capacity nor the funding to test all staff before school starts.”
Lumpkin schools were originally scheduled to return to school this past Monday, August 3, before the school board voted to move the start date back one week in order to have additional time for pre-planning, at the July Board of Education meeting.
Brown maintained that the school system is doing everything in their power to keep its employees safe.
“We are taking every precaution within reason to keep our staff safe in hopes of returning to and being able to continue with traditional schooling," he said.