Seventh grade students at White County Middle School will be on virtual learning classes from Tuesday, Nov. 17 through Friday, Nov. 20, due to multiple new positive COVID-19 tests and precautionary quarantines. Students will return after Thanksgiving break on Monday, Nov. 30.
The move, announced Monday afternoon, comes after the school had four teachers tested positive, with another three teachers quarantined, along with four students testing positive and 66 students quarantined, Superintendent Dr. Laurie Burkett told school board members at a previously scheduled meeting Tuesday, Nov. 17. The four teachers that tested positive are all seventh grade teachers. Two of the three quarantined teachers are exhibiting symptoms – one is a seventh grade teacher and the other is a co-teacher in the same grade.
“As far as students, we have four positive student cases at the middle school, three of those are seventh grades,” Burkett said at the meeting. “Because of that, we quarantined 66 kids at the middle school – 55 of those are seventh graders. You can see once you put all of that on paper where our problem is, and it is the seventh grade. So that’s why we made the decision that we made yesterday.”
Burkett added that there are not enough seventh grade teachers available because of the positive cases and related quarantining.
To help the students who don’t have internet access, Burkett said the school system put out four WiFi hot spots on buses throughout the county that students can use. On Tuesday, Nov. 17, the buses were located at Chattahoochee Baptist, Shoal Creek Baptist, White Creek Baptist and Helen First Baptist.
Sixth and eighth graders were not switched to virtual learning because the seventh graders are contained to specific areas in the school, Burkett said.
“… We went in last night and deep cleaned those areas,” she said. “We also deep cleaned the connections [areas] that multiple grades go in.”
Burkett added that school officials are continuing to watch COVID-19 numbers at the other schools. At the high school, the entire drama department had to be quarantined because of a couple of positive cases.
“The other thing that has happened and I believe we have it completely contained, we have seven positive students at the high school, and those swirl around the theatre department,” Burkett said. “They’ve been practicing for their show, 9 to 5.”
Because of the rehearsals, it was hard to determine who had been in close contact with the positive cases, so every theatre student who had been to practice was quarantined as a precaution, Burkett said. She added that there was some crossover between the theatre department and band.
“We believe that is contained,” Burkett said. “You look at it really close, and you can try to figure out where it’s bubbling up. We feel good about the high school. I know that sounds like a lot of students, but we think we have that contained.”
The school system is also monitoring the numbers at Mt. Yonah Elementary School closely, Burkett said.
“We’re watching Mt. Yonah,” Burkett said. “Today (Nov. 17), Mt. Yonah has two positive staff cases. They’re not in the same grade … we also have three staff that are quarantined. Two of those are because of positive family members, but the other one is exhibiting symptoms. So we’re watching that to see if they’re tested and to see what we get back with that.”
As for the rest of the schools as of Nov. 17, there was one positive staff member at Tesnatee Gap Elementary School, with no students testing positive and one quarantined. At Jack P. Nix Elementary School, there were no positive cases among staff or students. Mossy Creek Elementary School had no positive cases or quarantined students. MYES had three positive students and 18 students quarantined. As of the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 17, there was one positive staff member at White County High School, Burkett said.
Burkett emphasized to board members that their decision are being made based on the data.
“We’re not making any of these decisions by what we think is going to happen or how we feel on that day,” Burkett said. “We are digging into the numbers and the data.”
As for what would cause an entire school to shut down, Burkett said that there’s no set number. Any decision will be driven by the data.
“There’s nothing specific,” she said. “It’s all situational, and we just do the very best with the information we have right now, and as we get new information we make different decisions. There’s not some hot button number. We’re just watching carefully.”
Burkett said that the numbers changing daily, which is why there was such a big change from their weekly update last week to this week.
“At the middle school I got three of the four [teacher] cases were positive yesterday (Monday, Nov. 16),” Burkett said. “It can just turn on a dime, and I think that we can start to feel like where we need to start watching and watch it close. And not even daily, almost hourly through the day, because things are coming in that rapidly. Just trying to pinpoint where we need to watch, where we need to be concerned.”
The White County School System weekly COVID-19 status report on Nov. 18 said there were currently 14 students who had reported positive for COVID-19 and 233 students quarantined for possible exposure at that time. At that time, there were six reports of a staff member with a positive COVID-19 test, and 11 staff members quarantined for possible exposure.
A breakdown of the student positive cases and quarantines shows that in the elementary schools there are four positive cases and 24 students quarantined, with the middle school having four positive cases and 61 students quarantined. The high school has six positive cases and 149 students quarantined.
The reported numbers reflect students and staff who are out on that particular day – in this case, Nov. 18 – because of either a positive test or exposure to somebody with COVID-19 and are not cumulative.
As for the school system’s procedure for a positive case and quarantining, Burkett said they are following guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health. A positive case is reported to the school system by the teacher testing positive or a parent letting them know their child tested positive.
“There’s no way for us to know positive cases unless someone tells us,” Burkett said.