Gwinnett County’s health director is praising the county school system’s approach to returning kids to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic as a role model for the entire U.S.

Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health District Director Dr. Audrey Arona toured Discovery High School in Lawrenceville with Gwinnett County Public Schools Associate Superintendent for School improvement and Operations Steve Flynt on Friday morning. The tour was an opportunity for Arona to see what the school system is doing to keep students safe during the ongoing pandemic.

“The school system has done an incredible job of meeting every expectation of the health department and then some,” Arona said. “Seeing what they had in place today has truly been amazing, the innovation behind this. I give so much credit to the superintendent and the principals for all of the work that they’ve done and the forward thinking.

“Its truly innovative and the phased-in approach I think is a model that the entire country should look at.”

Gwinnett County Public Schools has currently brought students back in two phases with the third and final phase of students returning to class next week. Once the phased re-entry is completed, only 40% of students are expected to be in Gwinnett’s classrooms, according to Flynt.

The remaining 60% will be participating in class virtually from their homes.

Discovery High School Principal Marci Sledge said her school had a lot of space for students already because it houses a magnet school, which makes it larger than some other high schools in the county. She was confident the school could handle social distancing once the last grade levels return to class next Wednesday.

“We planned for about 1,500 students to return, we normally have about 2,700, so that alone would have allowed us significant space,” Sledge said. “I think ultimately, we’ll have between 900 and 1,000 that actually return to in-person (instruction) and so, in our case, I think it’s going to be extremely easy for us to continue to what we’re doing.”

Arona said she saw students socially distanced and wearing face masks in the classrooms she visited during the tour. She also said she saw “hand sanitizer everywhere.”

She also said phasing students in to the school environment helps educate students about the health issues surrounding the pandemic.

“I love the fact that they brought the younger kids in first, and then the older classes, because then they can be a model and then be the teachers for the older classes as they come in,” she said. “So, from a compliance standpoint, it makes it easier.

“Plus we really have to educate our kids about what a pandemic is, and how they can do their part to keep us all safe, and so that’s what this phased approach has done really. You can bring them in and have a better one-on-one capability with just not so many kids at once.”

Flynt said the district has also been reviewing procedures as students have returned to school to see what has worked well, and what has not.

“As Dr. Arona said, the plan is working very well,” he said. “The only reason it’s working well is, one, it was a well-thought out plan with our principals, with the people who have to facilitate it, but (also) it’s because it’s being put in place by the people in the schools, and that’s the principals, the administrators, the teachers and what they’re doing with the students and the custodians.”

Teams formed to quickly respond to positive COVID-19 cases

Since students started returning to class in Gwinnett County Public Schools, there have been some cases of kids testing positive, causing classmates and teammates to enter quarantine.

Flynt said the district has health response teams in every Gwinnett school to quickly respond when cases emerge to limit the chances of a massive spread throughout their respective schools. The district has “not seen much spread in the schools,” according to the associated superintendent.

“What we’re seeing mostly are cases that are coming into the school from the community,” Flynt said. “We’re very quickly, as quickly as we can, identifying that through a health response team in every school and then quarantining that case.

“So whether its a teacher or a child, (the district is) isolating them and then keeping them out for an appropriate amount of time. We’re also doing an investigation to find out who they’ve been in contact with and isolating them or quarantining them away from the school for an appropriate amount of time.”

The district has also been posting daily reports on the number of students and staff who test positive for COVID-19, as well as the number of close contacts district officials have been able to trace, for each school at bit.ly/3i2hHM9.

As of Friday morning, there were 11 active positive cases of COVID-19, as well as 276 suspected cases and 651 close contacts listed for the district. Those numbers include three positive cases, 37 suspected cases and 49 close contacts reported to district officials on Thursday alone.

School system urging families to practice safety during Labor Day weekendGwinnett has seen its new case numbers and incidence rates decline in recent weeks, but Arona encouraged residents to remain vigilant and continue following recommended mitigation guidelines and techniques, such as wearing face masks, practicing social distancing, staying home when sick and frequently washing hands.

“I do believe what the community has been doing is what’s causing our numbers to decrease,” Arona said. “That’s the only thing that makes sense because the only thing that works against this virus is these community mitigation strategies ...

“I think our county should be congratulated because these numbers are going down because of what we’re doing. I don’t know about you, but when I’m out and about, I see people in masks all over the place now and that wasn’t true a month ago so I think everybody is taking this more seriously.”

The school system also send out recorded phone messages to parents on Friday to urge them to follow health guidelines for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 over the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Gov. Brian Kemp and state health officials have also been urging Georgians to follow the mitigation guidelines this weekend to avoid repeats of spikes in cases seen after the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays.

“We all have a personal responsibility to do our part and not go out, take off the masks and get together in groups and things like that,” Flynt said.

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

(6) comments

John tuttle

Typical gcps nonsense. Interview teachers They'll tell you the truth (as long as they're kept anonymous).

E

She must not have spoken with any of the teachers who are the ones actually having to implement the vague and poorly-thought-out "plans" created by the district without their input. 2020 has been a year of embarrassing missteps for GCPS, and the leadership should be held accountable. Also, it should be noted that Dr. Arona's expertise is in obstetrics and gynecology - not public health, epidemiology, or education.

hpytravlr

The school system that is bleeding out teachers daily? My kids have different teachers every day; with so many COVID cases and ppl quitting.

ProfessorP

By the look of the crowd in the student section of the NGHS game last night, they are blowing it big time when those kids come back to school. Standing on top of each other screaming, with only two of hundreds masked and no distancing. I'll be shocked if they make it to October without going fully online. Who is making these ridiculous decisions?

Questtofind

Agree-the same person standing there telling you how great the county's plan is "working". They obviously are missing something.

John tuttle

"A role model for the rest of the country". "An example for the rest of the state." GCPS spews out this nonsense about so many things. GDP, "ASK THE TEACHERS FOR YOUR 'ARTICLE.' "

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