Whitfield County Schools pushes back start date

Staff Photo by John Rawlston / Traffic on Walnut Avenue stops in both directions while students get off of a Whitfield County school bus in a previous school year.

School board members for Whitfield County Schools agreed Monday to push back the start date for school from its original date of Aug. 7 to Aug. 31.

The board also extended the application period for parents who wish to enroll their children in an all-virtual learning program until Aug. 3 at 4 p.m.

The decision comes just days after Dalton Public Schools announced it also would push back its start date to Aug. 31. Both school districts so far are planning the most conservative approaches to reopening schools in the Northwest Georgia region.

Whitfield County is still dealing with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the state of Georgia and the tri-state region.

From July 9 to 16, Whitfield County averaged 6.3 new cases a day per 10,000 residents. By comparison, Hamilton County averaged 2.8 new cases per 10,000 residents in the same time frame.

As of Monday afternoon, 125 people had been hospitalized in Whitfield County, while 2,726 had been infected with the virus and 23 people had died.

Whitfield County Schools will offer two instruction programs for students. One is an all-virtual program and the other is a hybrid.

In its plan, there is no scenario in which high school students will be going to school every day of the week. Instead, high schoolers attending in-person classes will go twice a week and participate in online learning the rest of the week.

The decision to include online learning in the district's first option differs from other districts in Northwest Georgia. In Catoosa, Dade, Chattooga and Murray counties, the plan as of now is to move forward with in-school instruction and online learning only as a back-up plan or a plan for parents who do not want to send their children to school.

Whitfield County Schools Superintendent Judy Gilreath said the decision to split up high schoolers into alternating two-day schedules was made because there are too many students to properly social distance.

Dalton Schools' hybrid plan will have half the student body at each school coming in on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be used as at-home learning while schools are deep-cleaned.

This hybrid plan will be in place until Sept. 14. After that, all students who have chosen in-person instruction will return to school Monday through Friday.

Dalton Schools also will require students and staff to wear face masks when social distancing is not possible. Whitfield County Schools has not implemented a mask mandate but is encouraging people to wear one.

A complete and updated Whitfield County school calendar can be seen at wcsga.net/calendar.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.