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Why some schools in Hall and Gainesville may have to switch to blended learning
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Elementary content specialist for Hall County Schools Laney Park, Middle School Math Content Specialist Katie Miller and High School Math Content Specialist Cindy Grier use Zoom to talk to each other in April 2020. Photo Courtesy Laney Park

A return to blended learning could soon become a reality for some schools in both Gainesville and Hall County districts as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

After Thanksgiving break, the Hall system experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases among its students and staff, with 70 by the end of Tuesday, Dec. 1. On Nov. 30, the number was at 46.

Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams said as of Wednesday, Dec. 2, there have been 11 new staff positive cases and 12 student cases in the Gainesville district. 

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Williams said if a school does revert to blended learning — which is defined as conducting virtual learning with the intention of returning back to in-person instruction — the first reason would be because of a staff shortage, and the second would be prompted by “a cluster of cases on a larger scale” than experienced previously.

“The reality is, for us, that’s been a consideration ever since we started back in September,” Williams said. “Now we’re starting to see some of the impact from Thanksgiving week.”

Williams said some of his biggest concerns lie with providing coverage among kitchen staff and bus drivers. 

“Those are the two areas where we’re most vulnerable,” he said. “It may require shutting down routes or schools based on the number of cases we’re seeing.”

This week, Williams said the Gainesville district had 50 new quarantine cases with students and staff. This includes those identified as close contacts and people who have tested positive for COVID-19. 

As of Tuesday, Dec. 1, Stan Lewis, Hall’s director of community relations, said the Hall system has 368 students quarantined. Lewis and Williams said any student under quarantine is moved to blended learning.

On Tuesday, Dec. 1, Hall Superintendent Will Schofield delivered a video message on the district’s website, explaining the state of the system. 

Among the 70 student and staff absences due to COVID-19, East Hall High had the highest number at seven, followed by six at Martin Technology Academy.

Schofield said conversations have been ongoing with the Hall system’s principals, transportation department and food service regarding the question, “Do we even have enough adults on deck to be able to have school?”

“This again is not a ‘the sky is falling message,’ but it is a message of sober reality,” Schofield stated. “And that is, we may be facing some situations where we have to switch from in-person learning to blended for a period of days.”

Lewis said those shifting to blended instruction, would be done on a school-by-school basis. 

“If we ever got to a point where we felt like we couldn't continue from a staff perspective, what we would do is take several days, and we would put students on blended learning,” he said. 

Near the end of the video update, Schofield encouraged families to socially distance while in public and wear face coverings when around individuals outside immediate family. 

“My impression as I’m out and around and going to different places, is that we are becoming complacent,” he stated in the video. “And, I think the nine days that we all had, the well needed opportunity to be out of school and to get some rest over Thanksgiving is proving that letting our guard down will not serve us well.”