Jefferson City Schools will be the first in Georgia to reopen Friday. These parents won’t be sending their children

Patrick Swanson / July 29,2020

Amber and Zack Davies know too well how easily children can get coronavirus.

Their 14-year-old son contracted Covid-19 at summer camp, even though both he and the camp took precautions, Zack Davies said.

“It’s scary, because the camp, they’ve done all the precautions that they can,” he said. “And now we’re just about to shuttle all of our kids back to school.”

On Friday, Jefferson City Schools — about an hour northeast of Atlanta — will be the first district in Georgia to “reopen schools for face-to-face instruction.”

“They’re going to open the floodgates wide open,” Amber Davies said.

“And there’s no way to (contact) trace. Once kids go from one class to the next class, to the next class, they cannot do the tracing.”

Across the US, countless parents are riddled with anxiety — for different reasons.

In school districts where classrooms are reopening, children, teachers and staff run the risk of infection.

In districts where students will learn remotely from home, parents worry about how they’ll be able go to work or afford child care.

For the Davies, both their 14-year-old and 8-year-old sons won’t be able to go to school Friday due to the older son’s infection.

“They’re going to have a late start, but they are going to go back once we’re cleared medically,” Amber Davies said.

But both parents are worried about what will happen when their sons return to school.

Amber Davies suffers from lupus disease and is at high risk for severe complications from Covid-19. She’s been trying to quarantine in a different room after her older son’s infection, but her husband is worried about the younger son getting infected at school.

“My biggest concern is he catches something and then brings it back to my wife,” Zack Davies said.

“I feel our children are going to be fine. They’ll bounce back. But somebody with lupus — it’s a tougher fight for her. A common cold for me and you, we’re down maybe two days. Something like that for her, we’re looking at weeks. And it’s scary.”

Across town, Raye Lynn and Pete Fuller also want to keep their two children home.

“We’d love our kids to get back to normal, but right now is not a normal time,” Fuller said.

“And looking around at the data in the area, with the infection rates what they are right now, there’s no way we can see that they can keep not only the kids safe, but all the staff, the adults (safe).”

As of Thursday, Georgia had a test positivity rate of 13.3%, according to Johns Hopkins University. The World Health Organization has recommended governments not reopen until the test positivity rate is 5% or less for at least 14 days.

But Jefferson City Schools, which serves about 3,500 students, said it’s ready to reopen and published its safety measures.

“Although there are some parents who are concerned, there are many who are excited about their students returning to school,” Superintendent Donna McMullan said.

“I recognize there are feelings of apprehension, considering schools have been closed since March 16, 2020. Regardless of start date, there will be higher levels of anxiety due to the uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 situation.”

In a letter to parents, the school district said it’s important to take precautions seriously and keep schools open “to effectively meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of our students.”

It also detailed response protocols in case a student or staff member gets infected with Covid-19.

The school district recognized “there will be students who are considered high risk and/or have extenuating circumstances that may necessitate an alternative plan for instruction.”

Raye Lynn Fuller jumped at that chance and plans to keep her kids learning virtually.

“I’m a nurse, and I work with the elderly,” she said. “So I contacted them and said my child is not the one with special circumstances, but I am.”

About 5% of students have chosen virtual learning, the superintendent said.

But Zack Davies is worried about the students who are going back to classrooms. Even though the school district strongly recommends students and staff wear face masks, they won’t be required.

A petition asking the school board to mandate face masks in schools has garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

But the superintendent cited guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which say “masks are strongly encouraged to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” but that for some people, “wearing a mask may exacerbate a physical or mental health condition.”

“For the most part, our community trusts the leaders in Jefferson City Schools to make decisions that are in the best interest of our students and staff,” McMullan said.

“Our school leaders are focused on establishing a culture that promotes the importance of wearing face coverings along with other recommended mitigation strategies, which include social distancing and frequent hand washing.”

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