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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / Dade County High School students will continue remote learning through next Wednesday, as will the county's middle school students.

Dade County Schools announced it will extend distance learning for its middle and high school students, who were sent home earlier this week because of rising COVID-19 infections, through Wednesday, Aug. 25.

The Georgia school system also moved to a three-phase COVID-19 response plan for all grade levels and schools that emphasizes social distancing, modifies former rules for when quarantines will be required and outlines what hybrid instruction will look like for students this school year.

The new COVID-19 response plan will be implemented when students return to school on Thursday, Aug. 26, and is similar to a three-tier COVID-19 response plan put into place by Dalton Public Schools earlier this week. Where the school system falls within the tiers is based on the rate of community spread, as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines: Level 1 means there is low community spread of the virus, Level 2 means there is moderate spread, and Level 3 means community spread is severe. Dade County Schools' plan differs in that policies for students will be separated along grade-level lines in some cases, according to a news release shared by the school system on Wednesday evening.

(Read more: Dalton Public Schools to require masks for students seventh grade and under)

For example, at Levels 1 and 3 of the plan the response at all Dade County Schools will be similar regardless of grade level — all students will either be in face-to-face classes five days a week as they were at the start of this school year or, in the case of Level 3, they will all take part in remote learning at home. At Level 2, however, middle and high school students will enter into a hybrid instruction model while elementary schoolers will remain in in-person classes with modified quarantine rules.

Superintendent Josh Ingle said the school system will be at Level 2 when students return to school on Thursday.

The specifics of each level are as follows:

— At Level 1, classes will be five days a week with social distancing measures in place. Masks will be recommended for all students and visitor access to school buildings will be limited. Teachers will integrate digital learning into their lesson plans to ensure students are prepared for the possibility of hybrid or digital learning later in the school year.

— At Level 2, elementary school classrooms will quarantine for 10 calendar days when a student tests positive. If multiple classrooms in the same grade have positive cases, the entire grade level will quarantine for 10 days. If several grade levels are quarantined, the school may be moved to Level 3 and take part in remote learning for two weeks. At Dade Middle School and Dade County High School, students will move to a hybrid instructional model at Level 2. Students will attend school on Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday based on the first letter of their last name. On Wednesdays, all students will take part in remote learning to allow for deep cleaning of the facilities.

— At Level 3, all students in the school will have online instruction led by their classroom teachers. Grades will be given based upon student performance in the areas of participation, attendance and completion of high-quality assignments.

If a school enters into remote learning, Ingle said, the decision to return to face-to-face instruction will be made "when the number of quarantines and positive cases indicate we can return safely."

"If case or quarantine numbers remain high, we will extend the hybrid or remote schedule to ensure the safety of our staff and students. We will do our best to notify stakeholders of changes in advance so they can plan accordingly," Ingle said in a statement. "All decisions will be based on the best available information."

According to the most recent statistics made available on the school system's website, 34 positive COVID-19 cases and 70 active quarantines total have been reported within Dade County Schools since the start of the school year.

In the weeklong period from Saturday, Aug. 7, to Friday, Aug. 13, 10 students and three staff members at Dade County High School tested positive for the virus, and 14 students and two staff members were under active quarantine. Seven students and three staff members at Dade Middle School tested positive for COVID-19 during the same period, with six students and one staff member under active quarantine.

Other school systems in North Georgia, such as Catoosa County Schools, also have updated their COVID-19 policies over the last two weeks as a result of the rising of positive cases and hospitalizations in the region.

Contact Kelcey Caulder at kcaulder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.

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