By Brandon Martin
At the close of the first week of virtual instruction for Henry County Public Schools, four employees at Laurel Park Middle School tested positive for the coronavirus, according to school officials.
Monica Hatchett, director of communications for the county school division, said that each employee reported their positive results to the school’s principal, Jo Ellen Hylton. The nursing coordinator then began contact tracing efforts.
“Any persons who were in contact with the positive individuals within six feet for 15-minutes or more were advised to quarantine,” Hatchett said.
She added that staff members were notified of the positive cases, and that deep cleaning would take place in the affected areas of the building.
“Because there was more than one case in the building, the division felt it was important to close the building for two days to conduct additional deep cleaning and sanitizing, which took place over the weekend,” Hatchett said.
While teachers could potentially work virtually, Hatchett said that teachers and staff are needed in the schools to provide support for parents and students.
“As we prepare to have students return to the classroom, our teachers and school staff are working in their schools so that they are available to support students and families via phone call and, in some cases, through in-person meetings in addition to Zoom calls and emails,” Hatchett said.
Besides the outbreak at Laurel Park, Hatchett said that the first week of school under the new virtual learning environment was a learning experience for everyone.
“Teachers have been working diligently to support students and families as they acclimate to the virtual classroom and to ensure that students are receiving high-quality instruction despite the distance between them,” she added.
One major and expected hurdle for the schools was the lack of internet access in some areas in the community, but Hatchett said it led to some “creative solutions for some students.”
“Overall, we have seen excellent collaboration between families and the schools to ensure that students are learning and growing in this new format,” Hatchett said.
Another positive was the creativity displayed by students, according to Hatchett.
“Our students have shared some really creative projects with us already,” she said. Rather than traditional introductions, they’re making videos, showing us their pets and demonstrating their artistic skills in exciting ways.”
Given the novelty of the virtual format, Hatchett said school officials were prepared for mixed reactions from parents, with some families that “feel completely comfortable with the technology” and some that “prefer additional support.”
Regardless, “we are working closely with parents and caregivers to ensure that they all feel comfortable with the technology and with their students’ assignments,” she said.