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Staff photo by John Rawlston/ On Oct. 26, high schools including Coahulla Creek High School will go from two days a week in school to four.

The two public school districts in Whitfield County, Georgia, will soon move to the next phase of reopening schools for more in-person instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Judy Gilreath, superintendent of Whitfield County Schools, said getting students back on a more normal schedule has been the district's goal from the beginning.

"We have had to quarantine lots of students and staff due to exposure inside and outside of school," she said. "But thankfully, positive numbers have been relatively low."

The district has recorded 36 positive cases among the staff and students. Gilreath said most of the positive cases have come from athletic teams. Some are from students who are learning virtually and are on sports teams, she said.

On Oct. 26, high school students will go from two days a week in school to four. District officials have been keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 numbers in schools and in the county.

Gilreath pointed out the relatively low COVID-19 numbers in Whitfield County compared to numbers in the summer that had state public health officials on high alert. The county was averaging more than 78 new cases a day on Aug. 1. Now that number is hovering around 21 at the beginning of October.

Gilreath said the results teachers were seeing from virtual learning were not up to district standards.

"We also looked at the virtual work our students were completing [and] we were not completely satisfied with the amount of work that our face-to-face students were doing on the three days they had virtual learning," Gilreath said. "We had concerns about the number of students who had chosen virtual learning but were not doing the work consistently."

Gilreath said the extra work on teachers who have to teach both in person and virtually has been "exhausting."

"We knew from the beginning that teachers could not keep this up over an extended period of time," she said. "Teachers and administrators felt that we had to get students back in school on a more normal schedule because many students were not completing any or many of the assignments."

The hope is to have students transition from virtual learning to face-to-face learning because of the effectiveness and to make it easier on teachers. Gilreath said students will still have the option to stay home but the format of virtual learning might be different moving forward.

She said if COVID-19 numbers stay low, the district should expect students to be back at school five days a week after Thanksgiving.

The school district will continue many of the safety and health precautions in place since opening in August. Students will wear masks when they can't practice social distancing, will eat on an alternating schedule in classrooms and will wash hands frequently.

The five-days-a-week schedule isn't something completely new to the district since opening this fall. Elementary and middle schools have been going to school on a normal schedule since the start of the year.

Across town, Dalton Public Schools is gearing up to welcome nearly 1,200 students back to in-school instruction after almost 40% of the student body opted for virtual learning to start the school year.

Six weeks into the year, the district will now have about 75% of kids in school. Tim Scott, superintendent of Dalton Public Schools, said at this week's school board meeting that 665 elementary students, 269 middle schoolers and 265 high schoolers have said they will be at school starting Oct. 13.

Both Whitfield County and Dalton schools opted for a hybrid learning program with virtual and in-person instruction. Scott told the board that teachers are also dealing with busy schedules and additional stress for teaching both virtually and in person.

Because of that, the district announced it will keep Wednesdays as planning days for grades 6 to 12 to let teachers catch up through the end of the first semester, which ends Jan. 15.

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

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