Etowah High School closing due to COVID-19

Just seven days into the school year, Cherokee County is closing one of its high schools due to a high number of COVID-19 infections.

Cherokee County Superintendent Brian Hightower announced Tuesday that Etowah High School would be closing until Aug. 31. The closure is effective at the end of the school day today.

According to Hightower, 14 people at the school have tested positive for coronavirus with tests for another 15 students still pending. The school has 294 students and staff currently under quarantine.


The school will shift to a digital learning model during the closure.

Across the district, there have been 59 positive tests and 925 students and staff memebrs are quarantined.

Cherokee County has seen a spike in cases since the start of school Aug. 4. The county averaged 52.7 new coronavirus cases per day on Aug. 4. That number has jumped to 86.3 cases per day as of Tuesday afternoon.

The county has recorded 3,609 confirmed cases with 343 hospitalizations and 64 deaths.

In a letter to parents, Hightower urged parents to encourage their kids to wear masks when they are unable to socially distance.

“As your Superintendent, I wear a mask whenever I cannot social distance.  We know all parents do not believe the scientific research that indicates masks are beneficial, but I believe it and see masks as an important measure to help us keep schools open,” Hightower said.

Over the weekend, North Paulding High School in Paulding County closed for two days. The school is set to reopen tomorrow, but officials are expected to make a final decision on its opening tonight.

You can read Hightower’s letter about Etowah High School in its entirety below.

When we announced plans to reopen schools with options of in-person learning and Digital Learning at home, we made clear the challenges that came along with this choice for our families.

With a commitment from 77% of our students’ families to return to school in-person, we opened our doors on Aug. 3 and welcomed more than 30,000 students back for learning, reconnecting with teachers and staff and friends, and a sense of normalcy absent for five long months.

Since we’ve reopened, and as of this morning, there have been 59 positive COVID-19 tests confirmed among our students and staff, which have led us to mandate two-week quarantines for 925 students and staff.  We are not hesitating to quarantine students and staff who have had possible exposure – even if the positive test was prompted by possible exposure rather than symptoms, as all positive cases can lead to the infection of others.  Our transparency to our community is far beyond any requirements by the Department of Public Health, but we believe our community benefits from our longstanding commitment to transparency.  We don’t need social media to tell us to be transparent – it’s who we are because we care about our community.

I say all this to lead up to an important announcement – one that we have prepared our entire community to hear since we announced our Reopening of School Plan.  We are temporarily closing in-person learning at Etowah High School effective at the end of classes today (Aug. 11, 2020).  It is our hope to restart in-person classes at Etowah HS on Monday, Aug. 31.  This decision was not made lightly; it was made with the support of School Board Members, and was determined, as all of our quarantine decisions are made, in consideration with the Department of Public Health.  

We recognize this decision still may create hardships for Etowah HS families and is disappointing for students who want to be at school for in-person learning.  As of this morning, the number of positive cases at the school had increased to a total of 14, with tests for another 15 students pending; and, as a result of the confirmed cases, 294 students and staff are under quarantine and, should the pending tests prove positive, that total would increase dramatically.

What does this mean for Etowah HS students?  All Etowah HS in-person students will stay home from school until the scheduled reopening on Monday, Aug. 31.  We ask for students and their parents to be patient, as they were in the spring, while our teachers spend Wednesday shifting to remote learning.  We will deep clean the building on Wednesday, and remote learning, through the Canvas learning management system, will begin on Thursday, Aug. 13.  Teachers will report to school on Thursday to begin providing instruction to their students through Canvas.  The closure has no effect on Etowah HS students already enrolled in Digital Learning.  Students who need to pick up medication or other items that they must have during the next two weeks should call the school’s front office to make an appointment.  Extra-curricular athletic activities will continue after school; this exception is due to the very limited size of these groups and additional safety measures in place (such as temporal scans), but continuation of athletics will be closely monitored for possible closure. 

What does this mean for all other CCSD students?  We ask all students, staff and families to please continue to social distance and use masks when social distancing is not possible.  It is our sincere belief and hope that following this guidance will help us keep our schools open for in-person learning.  While cases are predominately affecting our high schools and we anticipate the need for quarantines will continue to rise in them with the possibility of more high school closures, we also may see more of our middle schools and elementary schools require quarantines in the coming days and weeks.

As your Superintendent, I wear a mask whenever I cannot social distance.  We know all parents do not believe the scientific research that indicates masks are beneficial, but I believe it and see masks as an important measure to help us keep schools open. 

We are delivering on our promise to offer parents a choice that includes in-person schools.  I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: this would not have happened without an incredible amount of work and faith by our dedicated teachers and staff.  Our school nurses are unsung heroes in their work to contact trace and identify quarantine needs, while still providing daily healthcare services to our students. 

We would not have been able to reopen without the trust of our students and parents, and we are working to maintain that trust through our transparency in reporting and notifications. 

We need our entire community to help us keep our promise – we need you to stay home when you’re sick; get tested if you’re symptomatic; report your child’s positive test to our school; follow the quarantine and limit interaction with non-family members during this period; social distance when you can and wear a mask when you can’t. 

I believe in our community.  I see your support in every chalk drawing outside our schools and gift basket delivered to our teachers and email about your child’s smile returning after disappearing in March.  I have communicated with numerous parents, students, employees and community members who have offered their support as we attempt to continue to keep our school facilities open for teaching and learning.  We are better together.  We are stronger together.  We are in this together, and we will get through this together.

Honored to serve you,

Dr. Brian V. Hightower
Superintendent of Schools

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