Since some COVID-19 cases have appeared among students and staff, the Bulloch County Schools are moving forward with not only the virtual and traditional learning options, but a third and temporary pathway, distance learning for those who are quarantined at home but not seriously ill.
Two additional COVID-19 positive cases were reported Thursday from among students and employees of Portal Elementary School, bringing the total to six confirmed cases from four schools in the 15-school Bulloch district in the first four days of classes. After contact tracing overseen by the Department of Public Health, the two new cases at PES resulted in 24 more people having to quarantine, including 20 from contact with one case and four from the other.
So now, a total of 82 individuals from the schools, including students as well as some faculty and staff members, are in quarantine. But that does not mean they are all ill. There have been only the six confirmed cases.
Most of the students quarantined simply came into close contact, as defined by the DPH, with someone who was confirmed to have the coronavirus. If those quarantined do not exhibit symptoms, they will be allowed to return to school after 14 days.
Not the whole family
“It’s a precaution, and the parents will monitor them for symptoms during that time, but no one else in the household, and no other siblings in the household, has to quarantine as a result, according to DPH,” said Bulloch County Schools Public Relations Director Hayley Greene. “It’s just that person who had direct contact with a COVID-19 positive person.”
Schools are attempting to keep student peer groups together, using seating charts in classrooms, and scheduling recess times by class instead of by entire grade, to reduce the potential number of contacts, she said.
For context, the school system has about 1,500 employees and 10,697 students, of whom 5,920 were designated for traditional instruction, attending school face-to-face.
The other 4,777 students were designated by their parents for at-home virtual instruction, using the interactive formats Edgenuity or SchoolsPLP, depending on grade level. These are supplemented by local teachers and other digital resources.
But for previously face-to-face students who suddenly find themselves in quarantine, administrators and teachers had already planned a separate way to keep them connected with their face-to-face classes. This approach is “distance learning,” provided by their classroom teachers using video connections and the Google Meets and Google Classroom services.
“All students that are quarantined, if they are well and able, they will be able to receive distance instruction from their Bulloch County Schools teacher,” Greene said.
Each student is already assigned a ChromeBook laptop, so quarantined students are sent home with their ChromeBooks for use in distance learning, she said. These computers are from the traditional school inventory and are not included in the count of 3,322 ChromeBooks the school system has checked out to students designated in advance for virtual instruction.
Administrators have also suggested that quarantined teachers, particularly of specialized subjects, could use distance learning connections to appear onscreen and continue teaching students. Another teacher or substitute would be assigned to be physically present in the classroom.
Cases so far
One confirmed case of COVID-19 had been reported in connection with Portal Elementary on Wednesday. So after those reported Thursday, PES has had three confirmed cases, the most reported at any one school. Seven people were quarantined in connection with the first case from PES.
Three other schools had been reported Wednesday to have one confirmed case each. A single confirmed case at Langston Chapel Middle School led to 25 individuals being quarantined, one case at Nevils Elementary School to 19 individuals quarantined, and one case at Mattie Lively Elementary School to seven individuals quarantined.
The individuals with confirmed cases were not necessarily at school the day the cases were reported, Greene noted. They may have gone home feeling ill or have been referred by a school nurse before the diagnosis was confirmed later.