This article has been edited to reflect new information sent by a parent in which Calhoun County Schools in a voicemail to parents, left after our story story was first published, said the action was needed due to a rise in cases among adults and children.
Calhoun County Schools on Monday announced the system would go virtual the next day and for two weeks because of “a number of circumstances” and in a voice message to parents said it was because of rising cases among adults and children and the inability to find additional staffing.
“This is due to the rising number of positive COVID cases of adults and students in our district. The inability to find substitutes for our adults has led us to this decision. Thank you for your understanding,” said Calhoun County Schools superintendent Donald Turner said in the voice mail, obtained by APR.
Calhoun County Schools reported 184 confirmed COVID-19 cases to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s K-12 COVID-19 dashboard as of Aug. 24.
Calhoun County schools do not require students and staff to wear masks inside school buildings, but instead encourages masks be worn, according to the system’s re-opening plan, which doesn’t spell out a specific percentage of students or staff quarantining that would prompt the system to go virtual.
Calhoun County Schools has approximately 8,600 students and 500 teachers across 17 public schools, two alternative schools and a career academy.
Calhoun County Schools superintendent Donald Turner didn’t immediately respond to APR’s questions Monday morning.
Talladega City Schools last week announced the system would go virtual for 10 days beginning on Sept. 7 and remain with a hybrid class structure for the remainder of the semester, AL.com reported.
“Safety of our students and families is a top priority. We will meet weekly to assess the spread of COVID-19 and the safety of our students. We will continue to make decisions in the best interests of our students, families and employees. If there is a need to modify our plan, we will let our community know as soon as possible,” a press release from the district states, according to AL.com.
Numerous school systems statewide are dealing with increasing numbers of cases and quarantining among students and staff. The number of Alabama school children aged 5 to 17 who contracted COVID-19 during the first week of school this year was 700 percent more than during the same time last year, said Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris last week.
Harris said this year’s numbers “are just staggering,” with 5,571 cases among students, compared to just more than 700 last year by this time.
Gov. Kay Ivey has continuously said she has no plans to make another statewide mask mandate, either in schools or for the public, leaving the decision to local school systems, which are struggling with cases and quarantining among students and staff, and are patching together policies around contact tracing and quarantine.
“We strongly recommend universal masking in schools. One of the ways to stay in school, if you’re exposed to a case, is to be in a setting where you’re consistently masked and you’re staying at least three feet apart,” Harris said. “It’s very important for us to keep children in school, but we absolutely have to find a way to do that safely.”
Only about a third of Alabama’s school systems reported to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s K-12 COVID-19 dashboard, which went live on Friday. School systems are required to turn in positive cases to ADPH, and are asked, but not required, to turn in COVID numbers fore the K-12 dashboard.
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris in Friday said the first week of the dashboard going live would be a “test week” as more systems would later begin to submit data.
Other Alabama schools dealing with COVID-19 cases and quarantining:
- Cullman County Schools saw more than 400 students and teachers quarantining two weeks ago because of either positive tests or being exposed.
- Green County Schools two weeks ago switched to virtual learning after eight days of school, with two students having tested positive and two teachers quarantining.
- Colbert County elementary school on Aug. 13 sent all students home for 10 days, noting in a statement that the district’s policy requires a shutdown when “one school’s population reaches over 18 percent of isolated or positive COVID cases….”
- Lee County Schools saw 193 confirmed cases among students and staff within the first two weeks of school, prompting it last week to announce it would be sending all close contact students and staff home, after beginning the school year without requiring close contacts to quarantine, according to WTVM 9.
- At Madison City Schools more than 100 students tested positive less than two weeks after start of school, prompting administrators to reevaluate social distancing in classes, bring back contact tracing and requiring close contacts to quarantine.
- Pike County Schools closed on Aug. 20 to undergo a deep cleaning because of rising cases there, the system announced.
- Elmore County schools were forced to reverse course and mandate masks after more than 100 students and 16 staff tested positive for COVID in less than a week.
- Blount County schools implemented a mask mandate on Monday after seeing six of its county schools transition to virtual classes because of rising COVID cases.
- Hatton Elementary school transitioned to virtual classes less than a week into the school year after nearly 20 percent of the students and staff tested positive for COVID.
- Three schools in the Lawrence County system moved to virtual learning last week due to rising COVID cases.