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Columbia County sees ‘normality’ with students back five days a week

Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 6:17 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2020 at 4:28 AM EDT
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EVANS, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - It’s as close to normal as it gets. Since starting this week, some Columbia County middle schoolers are back at school five days a week.

But it comes with a couple of changes.

Columbia County school officials say the low case numbers gave them a chance to get a taste of some normalcy, and to see how this plan with sixth-graders could work with others.

It’s a strange sight to see students back in a full classroom.

“We would have about eight to 10 in a class, and now they’re sitting anywhere from 23 to 26 or 27,” said Dr. Sandra Carraway, superintendent of Columbia County schools.

The numbers made that possible.

“In our seventh grade, we hadn’t had a positive case since Aug. 21. In our sixth grade, we only had two since Sept. 4,” Carraway said.

So middle school was the place to start phasing students back in. With more students in the building, social distancing is more of a challenge. Only a quarter of students are eating in the cafeteria, with others eating in classrooms or in the gym.

“When there’s not an ability to social distance, which is a lot of the time now, our students and staff will be wearing face coverings,” Carraway said.

They’re allowing mask breaks, too, in safe areas.

“I’m nervous, but I’m going to hope for the best,” said Joann Kuykendall, a Columbia County parent.

Kuykendall’s seventh-grader is getting ready to go back for the full five days a week.

“It was imperative I think to be in the classroom, be around people, get back to normal or some kind of normality,” Kuykendall said.

Some of the argument about whether to go back full-time is grades. Any student with a C or below average in at least one class will go face-to-face instruction on Fridays regardless even if they can’t go five days.

“To prioritize students whose grades don’t matter, GPA does not matter in middle school. Nobody cares what your seventh grade GPA was,” parent Tena Fulghum said.

Fulghum says parents should have the choice. But the district is taking it step-by-step.

“We are trusting and requiring that our students and staff follow our good measures. And if they do, we are going to be able to have school successfully,” Carraway said.

Seventh-graders will start back full-time next week, with 8th grade coming back the following week.

If parents aren’t comfortable, they do have the option to change their children to learn from home.

The school system says 20 percent of students are now learning from home. They say nothing will change with this plan unless cases grow again.

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