PAULDING COUNTY, Ga. — Paulding County students, on Monday, went back to school and into their classrooms, where face masks and social distancing are encouraged but not required.
And some students who wanted to stay away from school and study on-line, at home, instead, were required to show up in school anyway, despite their objections.
“I just think it’s outrageous.,” said LaShanda Hambrick, whose daughter, niece, and two nephews are high school students in Paulding County.
Hambrick and her sister are “outraged” because, from what they’ve seen so far, many students and teachers are not wearing masks and not social distancing.
There is no requirement that they do so, even after the principal of North Paulding High School sent a letter to parents telling them that members of the school’s football team had tested positive and that their children may have been exposed, as well.
The school system’s policies, which are posted on the system’s website, say, in part, that “schools will employ social distancing as it is feasible and practical.” As for masks, the schools “will encourage students, teachers, and bus drivers to wear masks… wearing a face mask is a personal choice….”
LaShanda Hambrick says that at Open House this past Friday, hardly anyone was wearing a mask or social distancing. She and her sister then tried to sign up their children for at-home, on-line learning, but all the spots were full. They went on a waiting list. And the school told them the children must show up in school while they wait for an on-line learning spot to open.
“They’re telling me, as we’re on the waiting list, we’re highly encouraged to come to school,” Hambrick said, and if her daughter stays away, “they told me that if my daughter wasn’t there today she would be withdrawn.”
A school system spokesperson confirms that students on the waiting list for at-home, on-line learning are required to be in school in the meantime.
The spokesperson said that parents of 70 percent of Paulding County’s 31,000 students chose to send their children back to school for in-person classes. That’s nearly 22,000 students. The parents of 30 percent of the students, about 9,000 students, opted for at-home, on-line learning. Information on how many of the 9,000 students are on the waiting list for the on-line learning option was not immediately available.
When asked why the students were required to attend school in-person while waiting, the spokesperson said that parents had been given a deadline to register for the virtual academy.
"All of the parents who registered their students by the deadline were accommodated," the spokesperson said. "All of the students on the waiting list are students whose parents missed the deadline, so of course, we are asking them to attend in-person instruction while we try to find additional teachers to accommodate more virtual students."
Hambrick said she mistakenly thought, until the Open House on Friday--after the on-line registration deadline--that masks and social distancing would be an integral part of the safety practices at the school, and that's why she tried to sign up for the on-line classes when she did.
“It’s very frustrating and unsettling,” said Frita Fisher, M.D. (@dr.frita), an Atlanta pediatrician, who is urging all school systems to require masks and social distancing.
“We all want children to be in school,” Dr. Fisher said. “We understand that they need to be face-to-face ... for the best learning… It’s upsetting because we are sending our kids to school knowing that we are putting them at an increased risk for spreading coronavirus among themselves and to the community.”
Pauling County’s school superintendent, Dr. Brian Otott, did not comment, but did release a statement to parents saying that on Monday, as he toured some of the schools, the employees he saw were wearing masks, and he encouraged more widespread use in the schools:
In the statement, he said:
“The first day of school in the Paulding County School District was remarkably normal, including the typical traffic issues in and around some of our schools this morning (along with a thunderstorm). Overall, the day went smoothly for both our in-person instruction students, and our virtual online instruction students. Today was all about acclimating to the new norms. We identified areas that we need to address for both face-to-face and virtual students. Some examples include cyber-etiquette and appropriate online behavior, as well as the management of high volumes of car riders. I would like to thank our community for their patience and understanding with the new protocols, especially not being able to walk their children into school or visit their classrooms. At the schools I visited in person, teachers and staff were wearing masks and we will continue to reinforce and educate our community about the importance of mask use. Our Transportation staff did an excellent job of getting kids to school and then sanitizing buses prior to the afternoon run. All of these new processes including social distancing, transitions between classes, serving lunches in classrooms, and regularly filling water bottles, will take some adjustment, but our staff is phenomenal and I have no doubt about their ability to adapt. We can’t wait for Day Two!”