Hamilton County Schools says it is struggling struggling to control COVID-19 as the delta variant continues to drive cases. This has prompted the public school district that operates 41 elementary schools, 21 middle schools, and 22 high schools in the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County School to ask all students to wear a mask. Some schools in the district have been closed altogether.
Interim Superintendent Nakia Towns for the Hamilton County Schools stated that 596 of the district’s 44,500 students tested positive for COVID-19 in the month of August alone. In a recording, Towns said, “Though parents have a choice in the masking decision for your child, I am asking you to make a choice that will keep our students safe and on campus for school, and that choice is for your child to wear a mask every day until the current wave is over.”
Towns’ call for universal masking comes less than two weeks after Hamilton County Schools announced the district would require students to wear masks indoors. However, parents will be allowed to opt out.
Earlier this month, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued an executive order directing schools in the state of Tennessee with mandates to allow parental opt-out.
Just one week after school started, nearly a third of Hamilton County Schools have an opt-out rate above 20 percent, according to a document obtained by NewsChannel9.com. The percentage largely varies depending on the school.
The latest numbers from the Hamilton County Department of Education COVID-19 dashboard revealed 600 active cases. Among staff, there are 62 active cases.
Other local schools in the Chattanooga area had to close early. Meigs County Schools dismissed students early on Wednesday, and remained closed the rest of the week.
Russell Dyer, the director of Cleveland City Schools, told radio station Mix 104.1 that illness is a reason schools will close Thursday and Friday. This was, in part, due to staffing shortages, as Dyer explained: “We know students need to be in front of a teacher in a classroom setting, but we also know that we have to provide that environment where they can be safe and where our staff can be safe and adequately have enough adults in the building to ensure that what we’re doing is the right thing to do.”
With COVID-19 on the rise in schools, virtual learning has increased in North Georgia after a large amount of students and staff tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, on Friday, Catoosa County Schools announced that all students will go back to digital learning next week.
When closing schools due to COVID-19, instead of shifting to remote learning, a new state board of education rule states districts cannot move to remote instruction unless the Governor declares a state of emergency or the department grants permission.
Stockpile days, also known as inclement weather days, are now used when closing due to COVID-19. Hamilton County Schools has 10 stockpile days for the entirety of the year. If a school runs out of stockpile days, the district is allowed to petition the education commissioner to make up days.
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Olivia Adams is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Follow Olivia on Twitter.