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A month into academic year, how are Richmond County schools doing?

Published: Sep. 29, 2020 at 11:17 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The Richmond County Board of Education met Tuesday after almost a month of students being back in the classroom during the pandemic.

Out of the nearly 30,000 students enrolled in Richmond County schools, just about 41 percent chose to learn in-person.

The district reports just 0.4 percent of students have tested positive for COVID-19. But 4 percent are in mandatory isolation for coming into close contact with a positive case.

“We have got to remember we are educating students during the middle of a pandemic,” said Jimmy Atkins, Richmond County school board president.

Those numbers led to a closure of four schools: three of which are still not open. Several other campuses are being monitored for the possibility of closure.

But the district says it’s the teacher absences presenting the biggest challenges.

“We’re taking a really big hit in terms of coverage in terms of staffing with substitutes,” said Dr. Cecil Clark, chief human resources officer for Richmond County schools.

The district says their substitute fill rates are down to 57 percent. And out of the more than 4,300 employees in the school district, nearly 3 percent of them are currently quarantining.

“There’s really just not enough staffing to keep up with the number of quarantined cases that we’re having,” Clark said.

It’s these concerns, plus parent and teacher complaints about safety, that leads some school board members to ask the district to move to a fully virtual learning model.

“How many of our students and employees' health and lives must be put at risk before we realize we are locking ourselves into a battle we obviously cannot win?” said A.K. Hasan, Richmond County school board District 6 member.

But other members say, we should trust the school leaders who make decisions based on the facts at hand.

“We employ Dr. Bradshaw and his staff to run this school system. And we rely on him and we trust him,” Hasan said.

It’s a juggling act, with both health and education, hanging in the balance.

The meeting was purely informational, so no decision could be made about any changes to the current school year.

But one board member has already made a motion to close all Richmond County schools until January. That will be put to a vote at the next school board meeting.

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