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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / A sign outlining safety measures hangs on the door at Leroy Massey Elementary School on Tuesday, July 28, 2020 in Summerville, Ga.

This story was updated at 5:29 p.m. on Friday, July 31, 2020, with more information.

On the first day of school in Chattooga County, Superintendent Jared Hosmer and members of his administrative staff visited every school in the district.

The first day of school after summer break is always hectic. This year, even more so.

Chattooga County Schools was one of the first districts in the country to return to schools since they shut down in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The opening came at a particularly controversial time, with the county amid an outbreak that has forced the local courthouse, police station, recreation center and other public buildings to close because of employee infections.

On a call with reporters after the first day of school, Hosmer said things were mostly smooth throughout the day, and he was proud of his staff and students who are learning on the fly how to go to school in a brand new environment.

"It was a great first day of school," Hosmer said. "Everything seemed to go smoothly."

Hosmer said a few things the district will work on include making sure the pick-up line after school goes quicker so kids aren't standing around for a long time and gathered in groups. He also said while students seemed to have done a good job at the high school at staying on one side of the hallway in between classes and after school, students weren't always socially distancing.

"One thing that we're going to continue to stress and work on is, 'Keep your distance.' Do they need to spread out a little more? Sure. But we'll work on that," he said. "For a first day, it went great, and I feel like that is the thing I will stress when I call my principals."

Even though the traditional, in-person classes went off without a major hitch, the virtual classes that were supposed to start Thursday had to be delayed.

Hosmer said "with everything being at warp speed," as the school year started, some kinks still had to be worked out with the virtual module. "We have not had an opportunity to do some training that we need to do in the district," Hosmer said. "We had every intention of starting with our virtual learners [Thursday] but it's gonna be one day next week that we get to start with them."

Hosmer said he hopes the virtual program will be up and running before the end of next week.

About 330 students have enrolled in the virtual learning program, which accounts for about 12% of the student body.

The district is not considering issuing a mask mandate at this time. Hosmer said he thought educators, staff members and students did a "pretty good job" at wearing masks but couldn't definitively say the percentage of people who wore masks. Hosmer did say he and his staff who visited every school wore masks indoors.

 

A parent's view

Karen Tucker Brown dropped her 10-year-old son, Kaden, off at Leroy Massey Elementary Thursday morning without many worries. 

Kaden uses a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy. He's gone to Leroy Massey his whole life and the staff is very familiar with him, his family and his needs. 

Because Kaden is considered to be at high risk for the coronavirus, Brown took extra precaution to make sure his physical therapy, meals and physical education could be done in a classroom instead of the gymnasium or other rooms with a lot of students. 

Thursday morning came with a few new procedures, one being that Brown couldn't take Kaden into school to his classroom. Instead, she met a para-professional out front who escorted Kaden to his room. 

"I wasn't worried when I dropped him off," Brown said. "He's been at that school, and we're familiar with the nurse, teachers, the administration. All the teachers have been really supportive and positive so far."

Brown works full-time and couldn't afford to have Kaden learn from home, which is common in a community like Chattooga County. She said her only concern is if several teachers or staff members at a school were to test positive for COVID-19, does the district have a back-up plan in place?

"What do we do if 50% of teachers end up getting it at a school?" Brown said. "They're going to have a hard time getting a sub to work for $30 a day at a school where there's been people who are sick."

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

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