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Wheeler Schools Pause In-Class Instruction Due to COVID-19 Uptick in Community

Wheeler Schools Pause In-Class Instruction  Due to COVID-19 Uptick in Community Wheeler Schools Pause In-Class Instruction  Due to COVID-19 Uptick in Community


Going to Home Study Starting August 17; May Resume Classes in Two Weeks

The Wheeler County schools had been back in class for less than a week when Superintendent Suzanne Couey made a telephone call to students and parents with some disappointing news.

In an automated call Thursday afternoon, Couey notified parents that an elementary school student had tested positive for COVID-19 and that student’s classmates and teachers would be quarantined. Contacts would be traced and notifi ed by the Department of Public Health. But in an even more proactive measure, due to high rates of the novel coronavirus in the community and other COVID-19 cases beginning to erupt amongst staff and students, administrators decided to move the entire system to home study starting August 17.

“Unfortunately, our opening week of school coincided with the highest rate of community spread of the virus,” Couey said in a second automated phone mes- continued from page

sage Friday. Cumulatively since March, cases in sparselypopulated Wheeler County had topped 100 as of August 14.

The superintendent added, “Our students and teachers have followed all school rules without hesitation in the last six days and we were very disappointed to have to make the early call to pause face-toface instruction. If the number of cases decreases in two weeks we hope to be able to return by that time. We know our students want to be here and we want them to be here, too.” She called on the community to wear face masks when out in public to help mitigate the situation.

Wheeler County schools resumed classes on August 7 with about seven students already in quarantine and in online studies because of family members testing positive for the virus. On Tuesday, August 11, the school system was notifi ed that a high school student had tested positive.

On Wednesday, August 12, school administrators learned that an elementary school student had tested positive for COVID-19. “The student had been at school because she was asymptomatic,” Couey said. School administrators were unaware of the students’ situation until the mother called. It turns out that the child was tested because the father had positive test results. “We can’t enforce quarantine guidelines if parents don’t notify us of exposure,” Couey said.

When the Department of Health communicated with the school system about the elementary student who had tested positive, new state health guidelines were imparted. This new guidance dictated that the system send continued from page

the entire class home for quarantine, along with the four teachers who had come into contact with the student.

During the first full week of school, two other teachers were isolated because they were exhibiting symptoms and are now awaiting testing results. A support staff member was quarantined because her husband tested positive. The system also learned late Friday that a high school teacher had tested positive, so students in that class will be notified by DPH, as well.

“None of these cases were contracted at school, and while we were following all guidelines and students were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing and our actual positive cases were few, we had to send numerous people home,” Couey said, adding, “The quarantine rule is going to make it nearly impossible to continue school without major interruptions. That is not to say that a spread won’t occur at school. I anticipate more community cases next week because we were in school, but we are taking stringent precautions to prevent that as much as possible.”

Classes were halted on campus on Friday, August 14, and teachers in all grade levels shared the next two weeks of instructional plans with their students before they departed school. Elementary students went home with a letter to parents and middle/high students had schedules to share with parents.

Couey explained that teachers will utilize a combination of the Schoology online platform, videos, paper assignments and softwarebased assignments in the coming weeks and students will be expected to follow schedules provided by teachers and administrators. “Our expectations for students’ performance are the same as if they were in a classroom,” Couey said. Parents and students have been urged to communicate with teachers through the Schoology platform and teachers will be taking attendance and monitoring students’ progress.

Educators are concerned about the numbers of students who opted for remote learning over in-class instruction before the school year began. “We know that the instruction by computer software cannot compare to the education that our teachers can provide.” Couey emphasized, “As cases increase, we expect more families will be interested in remote learning, and we do not think that is the best educational route for our students.” The preference is for students to be assigned to teachers and to return to the continued from page

classroom as soon as it is safe to do so.

Beginning Tuesday, August 18, the school system will be distributing meals to students. A hot lunch and breakfast for the following day will be delivered via the regular bus routes and via curb service at the front of the middle/high school campus from 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. daily except weekends. Meals will also be delivered to children who do not normally ride a bus and cannot pick up curbside if parents notify the school.

All school sports have been suspended for a minimum of one week, Couey said, noting that the situation will be reassessed after one week and a decision to resume will be made based on the community- wide COVID-19 numbers. Unless quarantined, teachers and administrators will be on campus during the next two weeks and parents may contact them through Schoology.

School administrators were prepared from the start to respond to each case according to DPH guidelines. These guidelines were expected to change as COVID-19 progressed, so they have been posted on the school website and can be updated to remain current.

Even though the return to school was short-lived—for now—there was a huge benefit in being in the classroom for a few days aside from teachers and students getting to meet each other face-to-face. Because schools were able to get underway, students in grades three through 12 now have a computer. “So instruction can continue whether we close for two days or for 14, and we will make necessary instructional arrangements for students in grades K-2 as well,” Couey said.

“We realized when we started the school year that this would likely happen. We did not realize it would be this soon, but we are glad we were able to get started so that teachers and students could establish procedures, and so that students could learn more about Schoology and the other technology we will be utilizing in the coming weeks,” Couey said.

Because Wheeler County has spotty internet and virtually no broadband service, there are a few “hot spot” snags the school system and the internet supplier are addressing. But Couey expects those issues to be resolved soon.

“We know this transition may be inconvenient, and we want to commend our teachers for doing whatever is necessary to provide quality instruction. But the safety of our students and staff remains our primary concern. Right behind that is the educational quality we provide. At present, we believe this is the right thing to do to address both priorities.”

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