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Staff photo by Tim Barber / Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines recently announced that the district will remain on a hybrid learning schedule until at least Oct. 22 due to concerns over COVID-19.

Walker County Schools has announced it will extend its current hybrid instructional plan for students through Friday, Oct. 22, due to concerns over the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Georgia community.

The extension is set to include the three weeks before students' fall break and the week following fall break, according to Superintendent Damon Raines. Traditional five-day, face-to-face classroom instruction will resume on Monday, Oct. 25.

The school district first transitioned to a hybrid instructional model in late August with plans for students and staff to return to school on a regular schedule this week. That did not happen.

Instead, Raines said an extension was necessary based on the number of positive cases, close contact quarantines and "district and school operational capacity."

While continuing hybrid instruction, students will attend school on an A/B schedule, meaning only certain students will attend classes on certain days while others learn online from home.

This is intended to limit the number of students and staff in school buildings at any given time and to better ensure social distancing. Which students will attend class on which days is determined at an individual school level, and Raines said parents should already have been contacted by their child's school about which days they will be expected to attend in-person classes.

(READ MORE: Walker County Planning Commission recommends denial of Gateway at Rossville rezoning)

"We will continue to monitor data and changes may be made if necessary," Raines said.

Asked whether or not a return to school was guaranteed for the end of October, Raines said the district would continue to make its decisions based on what the situation looks like within each individual school and the district as a whole.

As of Friday, the last day when data was reported, 104 Walker County Schools students and 32 district employees had active cases of COVID-19. As a result, 295 students and 11 staff members were in quarantine.

A cumulative COVID-19 report detailing the number of cases and quarantines seen in Walker County Schools during the month of August shows there were 552 new and confirmed cases of COVID-19 during that time frame. It also showed that there were 1,781 school-related quarantines and 528 community-related quarantines during the month.

Upon a return to school, students and staff in Walker County will be expected to follow a strict set of COVID-19 guidelines and procedures aimed at keeping them as safe as possible.

(READ MORE: Catoosa County Public Schools Superintendent Denia Reese announces retirement)

These policies include recommended masking for students and staff, as well as mandatory quarantines for those who are not vaccinated but have been exposed to a positive case of COVID-19.

In the event of an exposure, quarantines will not be required for individuals who have been fully vaccinated for the virus or who have tested positive for it within the past three months and recovered (unless they become symptomatic).

Anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should test for the virus. Upon receipt of a postive test result, Raines said, parents should contact their child's school principal. Principals should also be contacted if a household member tests positive, resulting in a student needing to quarantine for the virus.

Notifications will be sent out to the school community if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, per school guidance.

In terms of school operations, Raines said enhanced cleaning measures will continue on each school campus once students have returned to in-person instruction. High-traffic areas such as cafeterias and bathrooms will be disinfected throughout the school day, and classrooms will be spaced out to ensure a social distance of at least three feet wherever feasible.

Vaccinations, while not required for students or staff, are encouraged.

(READ MORE: North Georgia health leaders sign joint letter urging vaccinations)

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

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