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Hall County Schools extends at-home school for another week
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Anna Osorio, right, and Madison Blankenship study using their laptops Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, at their Flowery Branch home. The Hall County School District announced in August it would begin the first two weeks of the school year with a hybrid of in-person and virtual classes. The spring semester in January began virtually, and on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2020, the period of at-home school was extended in Hall. - photo by Scott Rogers

After starting the spring semester online, the Hall County School district announced on Thursday that it would extend virtual instruction through Friday, Jan. 15. 

The first day of school in Hall was Tuesday, Jan. 5, and the district announced Sunday that the first week would be virtual. 

As of Wednesday, Jan. 6, the school system reported 170 COVID-19 related absences among Hall County staff members and an additional 170-190 adult absences per day not pertaining to the virus. 

“As a result, the district does not have the capacity to safely and effectively support the number of students currently enrolled for in-person instruction,” the announcement reads. “The number of individuals willing to substitute teach is declining daily, and unfortunately, similar to what we witnessed following the Thanksgiving holiday, the number of positive cases and quarantines among team members is increasing significantly.”

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On average, Hall has 15 to 20 bus drivers absent each day, the district stated. And, the pool of substitute drivers is already “extremely limited.” Other absences include team members from technology, school nutrition, custodial services and maintenance. 

“We have said from day one that our biggest challenge in managing COVID-19 would not be spread among students in our buildings; but rather, would we have enough adults present to hold school and effectively deliver instruction,” the statement reads.

Families will be notified by the end of the day Thursday, Jan. 14, about the system’s plans following the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, Hall officials say.

Gainesville City Schools announced Monday, Jan. 4, that students would begin the first two weeks of the semester online. Superintendent Jeremy Williams said students and staff will also receive an update Thursday, Jan. 14, regarding whether or not the district will extend at-home learning. 

Just a few days into the semester, Williams said schools have experienced the “typical learning pains” of returning to virtual learning. But, overall, he said the start has gone smoother than the system’s previous shifts to at-home instruction. 

“Students are engaged more frequently than when we started the (school) year, and teachers are more comfortable instructing and managing over the virtual environment,” he said. “We recognize the challenge it may place on families to support their children, but we encourage them to stick with it.”

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