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COVID spreading through schools
Grant Swallows headshot.jpg
Grant Swallows

When it comes to COVID and the Warren County School System, the number of cases is rising by the hour.

The school system began Friday with about 430 students impacted by COVID, either as a confirmed case or a quarantined case due to contact tracing. By the end of the day Friday, that number had surged to 670, an increase of some 240 students.

“And we thought last year was tough,” said Director of Schools Grant Swallows.

The school system is looking for the best way to navigate the COVID surge. State officials have said students are to be in class five days a week and Gov. Bill Lee has issued an executive order declaring that wearing facemasks shall be optional.

Unlike last year, shifting to virtual learning is not an option, unless Gov. Lee declares a state of emergency to allow it.

“Regardless of what’s going on, we’re still tasked with the responsibility of educating 6,000 students,” said Swallows.

Many of those students have COVID. As of Friday afternoon, there were 70 students in isolation due to receiving a positive test. More than 600 were in quarantine due to contact tracing determined by the Health Department.

“Eight days into the school year we’re already rivaling the number of sick kids we had last year at the peak,” said Swallows.

According to a policy adopted in July by the Warren County Board of Education, students are required to wear facemasks at school if the number of positive COVID results in the community exceeds 25%. The School Board is scheduled to meet Monday night at 5 p.m. at Bobby Ray Elementary to determine how to modify that policy to conform to the governor’s executive order that allows students to opt out of the facemask requirement.

Swallows says it would be challenging to have a mask mandate if students are allowed to opt out.

“If you had 20 students in a class and 10 of them opted out, it would be difficult for a teacher to keep it straight as to which 10 opted out,” said Swallows. “The second problem would be with enforcement for the kids who didn’t opt out. How are you going to tell those 10 kids to wear one when there are 10 others who don’t have to? That puts us in a tight spot. The executive order exists and we have to work to follow it. I’m sure this will be heavily discussed Monday night.”