Walker County Schools close all schools through Thanksgiving due to COVID-19 cases

Staff photo by Tim Barber / Students, parents and residents exit the school board headquarters in LaFayette.

Walker County Schools has announced it will close all its campuses through Thanksgiving break, as more than 100 students and teachers have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The decision by the Georgia district to close all schools comes just days after LaFayette High School had to be closed because of a sudden increase in positive cases over the weekend that were confirmed to come from outside of school.

The COVID-19 cases spread to other schools, which forced Superintendent Damon Raines to make a sweeping decision for all the schools in the system.

"Over the past two weeks, we have seen a surge across the district due to factors outside of the school buildings and our control," Raines wrote to teachers and staff in an email this week. "This has caused a spike in positive cases, the associated close contact quarantines and the need for many teachers to stay home and provide necessary child care due to positive or quarantined students or closed day care facilities."

The school district releases its COVID-19 report every Friday afternoon. On Nov. 13, 77 students and 29 staff members were positive with COVID-19. That forced 957 students and 49 staff members to quarantine.

Down the road, Gordon Lee High School - which is a part of Chickamauga City Schools - announced previously this week it would close for the entire week starting Monday after between 70 and 80 students had to be quarantined due to 13 positive COVID-19 cases.

In a statement on the schools' website, Principal Melody Day said officials have narrowed down the source of the spread to three events: a group of high school boys hanging out on Nov. 5, cases on its basketball team and a Halloween party.

The Georgia Department of Public Health said it was investigating two separate events that are being deemed the cause of the outbreak in students.

In a video update posted on Thursday, Raines emphasized the importance of wearing masks in the building and socially distancing as much as possible both in and out of school.

Students in the district will have two weeks off starting Monday, Nov. 16. Students will return to a hybrid schedule on Nov. 30 and will finish the remaining three weeks of the semester starting then.

Nov. 16 will now be a teacher planning day to prepare for the new hybrid schedule, have teachers catch up on work they may have fallen behind on and to prepare packets for students who don't have devices they can use at home.

Teachers and students will make up four days May 24-28.

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