All pre-kindergarten classes at Brookwood School have been temporarily closed due to the number of students and staff in quarantine due to exposure to the new coronavirus (COVID-19).
Brookwood currently has 19 students and six staff members in quarantine, according to Emily Martin, communications specialist for Dalton Public Schools. In addition, 26 students were advised to quarantine out of extra precaution, with no known exposure, and these students will return to school on Monday, Sept. 28, if they have not developed any symptoms.
The school nurse has notified any families whose students may have been in close contact, and "any employees who may have been in close contact with this student have also been notified," Martin said. "We will be following up with a letter to these close contacts with guidance from the health department about quarantining and identifying COVID-19 symptoms."
Dalton Public Schools has a data dashboard updated weekly on its website (www.daltonpublicschools.com/district-resources/covid-19-information/covid-19-data-dashboard) so anyone can see the number of positive coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, exposures, and close contacts.
Positive cases refer to students or staff who have received confirmed laboratory positive test results for COVID-19 and contracted the virus in school or during a school-related activity, while those who contracted COVID-19 outside of school are counted in the "exposure'' category, as they're among those quarantined, Mendy Woods, chief human resources officer for Dalton Public Schools, said Monday. That follows reporting directions to schools from the state, as "we wanted to stay consistent and not have two different sets of numbers."
On the dashboard, "exposure" includes students and staff currently in quarantine due to coronavirus exposure, as well as those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 but contracted it outside of school, according to Dalton Public Schools. "Close Contact refers to a person who has been within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes of a person with a confirmed positive case of COVID-19."
The system is working with the Whitfield County Health Department to hire a coronavirus prevention and response coordinator, but for the moment, Bliss Jones has stepped into that role, and the Dalton Public Schools nurse has been leading the system's coronavirus communication efforts and contact tracing, Woods said. "She's been invaluable."
More in-person instruction
Despite the recent spike in cases at Brookwood, the system is still planning to phase in full, five-day, face-to-face instruction beginning Monday, rather than the current hybrid model of students being in school buildings two days per week and learning virtually the other three. Elementary students are poised to return for full weeks of in-person school Monday, while grades 6-12 will move to four days per week on that day before shifting to five days Oct. 19.
Based on discussions with Dr. Zachary Taylor, health director of the North Georgia Health District, Matt Evans, chairman of the school board, has learned this community is "better than we were in July" in terms of coronavirus spread, but the rate of positive tests and community spread remain high.
As of Monday afternoon, Whitfield County had 4,302 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (more than all but 13 of 159 counties in the state), 229 hospitalizations attributed to the coronavirus and 59 deaths, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Whitfield County's rate of 4,110 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 residents was 16th-highest in Georgia.
While COVID-19 spikes have followed holidays like Memorial Day and July 4th, "it's still too early to tell" any local impact from Labor Day weekend, but Dalton Public Schools is ahead of many other districts because of the proactive steps it has taken to mitigate spread of the coronavirus, such as mandating masks in its buildings, Evans said. The masks "and our protocols are serving us well."
And from what Palmer Griffin has heard from principals and students, wearing "masks in classrooms has been a non-issue," said the school board's vice chairman. "It seems to be working, it's heartening."
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children over the age of 2 wear masks, and Dr. Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, recommends schools mandate masks.
The system also allowed students to opt for total virtual learning this year, and roughly 38% of Dalton Public Schools students, or 2,972, did so, Superintendent Tim Scott said Monday during a Dalton Board of Education meeting at Dalton Middle School. At the 10-day mark of the new school year, Dalton Public Schools had 7,766 total students, down slightly from 7,859 at that point in 2019.
Virtual learning is on a six-week basis, so virtual learners are eligible to return to in-person education Oct. 13, Scott said. To do so, they'll need to notify their school of their intent in writing by Oct. 2.
With virtual instruction, whether students are using it full time or part time, the system has set up tiered support, not only for students, but for parents, said Laura Orr, Dalton Public Schools chief academic officer. They can ask questions, find helpline phone numbers, read about the Canvas management platform and watch salient videos at www.daltonpublicschools.com/district-resources/instructional-technology-support.
"We've started creating our own videos," said Nick Sun, a director of school support for Dalton Public Schools. "If someone needs a video, we'll make it."
"We're trying to make them all in Spanish, as well" as English, Sun added. "You can do the closed caption to have it read to you in Spanish," too.