Columbia County Superintendent addresses COVID concerns first week of school

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EVANS, Ga. (WJBF) – Photos and letters sent to some parents sparked a bit of controversy among parents when it comes to whether in-person learning really is safe for students. So, we checked in with Superintendent Dr. Sandra Carraway to discuss the situation.

“As long as we can have school safely and in a healthy manner that’s what our intentions are,” said Carraway adding that around 20,000 students returned.

NewsChannel 6 obtained two letters dated August 4 to parents at Lakeside and Harlem High Schools. It’s an alert that a student or staff member who tested positive for COVID-19 may have been in contact with that parent’s child or children.

Carraway confirmed with us that it was two students, both asymptomatic. And she said just because Lakeside and Harlem have cases along with six other students who tested positive before the start of school, it’s not enough to shut the doors like the district did in March.

She said, “If the spread of COVID in our community becomes so widespread that we can’t have school safely, we will turn to a learn from home model.”

She could not give a number for what widespread means, but said she’s following information from the Department of Public Health and the CDC, which recently reported that evidence states children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults. One parent, who wanted to remain anonymous said she just wants more transparency from Columbia County School leaders, adding the letters should have gone out to every parent.

“It’s not just this school,” the concerned parent said. “I know there’s more cases at other schools. They’re just not reporting it.”

The concerned parent did share that she chose the virtual learning option because she expected cases to pop up once in-person learning started.

“I had a feeling that something like this was about to happen and it’s starting and it’s going to be a domino effect,” she explained.

NewsChannel 6 spoke with another parent off camera with concerns about students at North Columbia Elementary seated closely together, some wearing masks and some not. The photo went viral and calls came in as far as Texas. Carraway said the Return to School Plan says social distancing will take place as much as possible.

“We don’t want children working in small groups as much as possible because we want to limit interaction,” Carraway said.

“I definitely believe in the Academic Academy of Pediatrics that it is essential for children to go to school,” the concerned parent shared. “I totally believe that. I’m not against that. But at what cost? What risk?”

Carraway wants to stress this to parents and students. She said students should not come to school if they are feeling sick. Stay home. She adds that students who have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID in the home and even students who have taken a COVID-19 test should stay home until testing results come back. Parents who want to know how learning can still take place while a kid is home should contact the school to move forward with a learning plan while the student is away.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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