Editorial: As local schools open Monday, transparency in reporting COVID-19 cases is vital

After a layoff that began in March -- but probably feels much, much longer -- students in Dalton and Whitfield County return to school on Monday for the 2020-2021 year.

How they return differs from student to student and system to system, as some pupils have the option of returning to in-person classes at schools or continuing virtual learning from home that began in mid-March as the new coronavirus (COVID-19) shuttered schools across the area, state and nation.

Both school systems have allowed students to learn exclusively virtually.

Students who attend Dalton Public Schools will go to school two days per week with the remaining three days earmarked for virtual learning for at least the first two weeks, while Whitfield County Schools will keep high school students virtual learning three days per week until further notice.

Many students, teachers, school staff and their families have trepidation upon returning to in-person learning due to the volatile nature of COVID-19, concerned that the virus will be picked up at school and carried back to the home, where it may spread. Administrators have put an emphasis on the wearing of masks/face coverings, maintaining social distance when possible, handwashing and cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting their schools. Schools have put in place stringent safety and health protocols from shutting of drinking fountains to having students eat meals in classrooms. It's paramount on us to make sure our children are following these guidelines designed to keep the community safe.

Once the schools open to students, COVID-19 cases there will be difficult to avoid. We've seen schools across the country, and a handful in Georgia, fall victim to coronavirus outbreaks. Local administrators are preparing for what seems to be the inevitable.

Over at Dalton Public Schools, the administration has taken a refreshing stance to keep the public informed about COVID-19 cases in their nine schools. The system has created a COVID-19 dashboard on its website (www.daltonpublicschools.com) to track the number of cases. It's the right move, and we commend school officials for their desire to be open.

"Dalton Public Schools will remain as transparent as possible with our parents, staff, students and community about what is happening in our schools," according to the system. "We have created a COVID-19 data dashboard as a source of up-to-date information with current COVID-19 cases and exposures."

School officials began tracking cases and exposures for staff on Aug. 17. On Monday, the system starts tracking student cases and exposures. Currently, no Dalton Public Schools staff members have COVID-19.

Numbers represent active cases and are not cumulative. School "staff reports include all school-based personnel including, but not limited to teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, custodians, front office staff, administrators" and other employees, according to the system.

We hope all school systems in our region take the approach of sharing information about COVID-19 cases instead of hiding it from us.

The more we know, the better equipped we are to continue fighting this pandemic.

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