Adapting education in a time of pandemic has been an in-depth and lengthy process for Polk School District leaders, but with the start of the school year just days away there are still questions about how classes will go.
Polk Schools Superintendent Laurie Atkins unveiled the system’s plan for reopening schools earlier this month focusing on new rules for students to maintain physical distancing, as well as new procedures covering transportation, meals and instruction.
The first day of school has remained Aug. 3 and no change to any other version of reopening has been mentioned by the Polk County Board of Education.
Part of the plan in place is the option for parents to have their children participate in virtual learning, meaning they would work from home by completing courses over the internet. The school district set a deadline of July 17 for applications.
Atkins said they had 949 of approximately 8,000 students apply for distant learning. That is around 11.9% of the district’s total enrollment.
Principals and district staff spent time last week providing training for those teachers who will be part of the distant learning program.
“We are fortunate to have Directed Studies teachers at each of our schools,” Atkins said. “These teachers, along with support from the media specialists, will be supervising, monitoring and communicating with the distance learning students.”
Students will be responsible for having their own device and a reliable internet connection, with most of them working via an electronic platform called Odysseyware.
There will be a 10-day grace period once school starts where parents of distant learning students may elect to have their child attend classes in-person instead, but after that time is up the student must remain in the distant learning program at least through the rest of the semester.
During an information meeting for parents who applied for their child to participate in distant learning, school district officials reiterated that the option was given for students with weakened immune systems or who have a family situation that could be difficult if a family member is exposed to COVID-19, and it was never designed as a convenience for those students who simply do not want to attend class.
District leaders have continually stated they have based the plan on guidance from both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Georgia Department of Education.
On Thursday, the CDC posted new guidelines on education and child care that are in favor of having students return to school, saying children don’t suffer much from the new coronavirus, are less likely than adults to spread it and suffer from being out of school.
The guidelines do recommend that local officials should consider closing schools, or keeping them closed, if there is substantial, uncontrolled transmission of the virus.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reported 457 Polk County residents had tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in March. That is equal to a little more than 1% of the county’s population, according to the most recent estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement announcing the updates.
“School closures have disrupted normal ways of life for children and parents, and they have had negative health consequences on our youth. CDC is prepared to work with K-12 schools to safely reopen while protecting the most vulnerable.”
Increased cleaning and sanitization of classrooms and other highly-trafficked areas in school buildings is a part of the Polk School District reopening plan, and Atkins said they are prepared to deal with the cost associated with it thanks to federal funding triggered by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
“There is an increased cost associated with the additional cleaning, personnel, and personal protective equipment that will be used to keep our students and employees safe. Once again, we are fortunate that we have been given CARES Act funds to offset the cost to the district,” Atkins said.
Carrie Fowler and her family can regularly see skydivers from their rural Cedartown home gliding down from the sky with parachutes.
She used to watch them often and think, “I’ll never do that.”
But then her biggest fear was replaced in March when her 5-year-old daughter Haidyn was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive genetic disease called Sanfilippo Syndrome.
Now Carrie is getting ready to take on one of her longest phobias and skydive this Saturday along with friends and family — including her husband, Caleb — to help raise awareness of the debilitating disease and show her daughter that people can overcome what they fear.
“My husband knows how scared I am of heights,” Carrie Fowler said, mentioning moments when flying or even driving through the mountains. “But I told him now I’m more scared of my daughter having a disease that will likely take her by her teenage years that has no cure.”
Sanfilippo Syndrome is a degenerative disease that has been compared to Alzheimer’s but for children. It affects the brain and nervous system with no treatment options currently.
Haidyn will slowly lose her ability to speak, walk, and eat over the next few years, but they continue to make her life as happy as possible. Fowler said from what her family has learned about Sanfilippo Syndrome they understand Haidyn is in a lot of pain but she can’t communicate it to them very well. She shows signs of getting tired easier and not being able to talk as much as she once could.
“But she is one of the happiest kids overall. She laughs at things that we might not think are quite as funny, and of course that makes us laugh,” Fowler said. “Our motto is if she can be this happy when she has every right to cry with pain, then we can be the light for her during this struggle.
“All we want her to know is happiness.”
Haidyn and her family moved to Cedartown just over a year ago. At the time she had been diagnosed with severe autism for about eight months and had been seeing speech, physical and occupational therapists.
After about a year of Haidyn going to therapy, her mother could see that she was not improving at the same rate as other children with autism that she knew.
“So my mom instincts kicked in and I begged Haidyn’s pediatrician for a referral to a geneticist,” Fowler said.
After their first visit, Fowler left with some paperwork that listed what they would be testing Haidyn for and what the diagnoses could be.
“I’m a researcher, I like to know what I’m up against,” Fowler said. “So I came home and started Googling things until I came to the diagnostics for Sanfilippo Syndrome. That’s when I knew.”
It was Haidyn’s prominent features, such as her thick eyebrows and hair, that seemed to point towards the rare disease. It took a few weeks for the blood work to come back, and that’s when they got the official diagnosis.
Fowler has a 12-year-old daughter, Braelynne, who has taken an initiative to research Sanfilippo Syndrome on her own to understand what Haidyn is going through. She also helps look after her around the house.
“She’s just a great big sister and has taken her time with Haidyn,” Fowler said. “You would understand in some way how a sibling could feel jealousy because Haidyn has become the priority in our lives, but Braelynne has been understanding through all of it.”
While researching Haidyn’s condition, Fowler found a Facebook group that has helped her connect with parents of children with Sanfilippo Syndrome from all over the world. She said they have not only educated her but also been a means of support during difficult times.
Through them she discovered the Cure Sanfilippo Foundation, which raises funds for research to help develop treatment and, ultimately, a cure. It’s that organization that Fowler is helping raise money with her skydive this week.
She and her husband are working with Skydive Georgia, which is based at the Polk County Airport-Cornelius Moore Field. She said they have had a lot of her husband’s co-workers, along with other friends and family, volunteer to jump with them. They also have heard from some people they don’t even know who want to jump after reading about it on Facebook.
“How cool would it be to have a day of skydiving for Haidyn,” Fowler said.
Fowler’s fundraising page can be found by visiting https://give.curesanfilippofoundation.org/fundraiser/2799911. Donations can also be made through Haidyn’s Facebook page at facebook.com/HaidynsHope.
After having just one reported death caused by COVID-19 in the first four months of the pandemic, Polk County had three more reported in less than a week while the total number cases has more than doubled in less than a month.
A fourth Polk County resident that died as a result of complications from the new coronavirus was reported by the Georgia Department of Public Health on Friday, just before press time, in its daily COVID-19 status report — which can be found at https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report.
The person was listed as a 79-year-old female who did have previous health conditions. The DPH does not provide any other information on those who die from COVID-19.
The day a death is reported by the DPH does not necessarily indicate when the person died as state health officials investigate each death that is considered to be a result of the new coronavirus before making a conclusion on if the disease was the cause of death.
It marked the third reported death of a Polk County resident as a result of a COVID-19 infection in less than a week. An 84-year-old Polk County man was listed as having died from the disease on the July 18 report and a 57-year-old woman was listed on the July 22 report. Both of them were listed as having underlying health problems.
Polk County had a total of 479 positive cases of the new coronavirus as of Friday, with 21 residents having been hospitalized because of the disease. Polk County only had 205 confirmed cases as of June 30.
Georgia’s total number of cases surpassed 160,000 last week as the DPH reported daily increases of near or more than 4,000 for several days. It reported 81 new deaths Wednesday and 82 on Friday, making them the second and third deadliest reports since the beginning of the pandemic.
The total number of deaths in Georgia was at 3,442 as of press time Friday.
The Polk County Health Department continues to offer drive-up testing for COVID-19. The service is available at the facility at 125 E. Ware St. in Cedartown from 8:30 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.
Those wanting to get tested are asked to call 770-749-2270 when they arrive and a nurse will come out to their vehicle to administer the test, with results reported to the person at a later date.
Rockmart Cultural Arts Center’s Juried Art Show is underway at the Rockmart Art Gallery, continuing through Aug. 6, 2020. A reception and Awards ceremony is planned from 4 to 7 p.m. on Aug. 1. For more information call 770-684-2707 or 770-231-9094.
The Arts Reignited Arts Exhibit is coming up after having to re-schedule the annual exhibit and gala that was postponed. The “A Night with Local Artists” Gala is now being held for the exhibit starting later this summer on Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Skellenger Gallery at the Cedartown Performing Arts Center. More than 200 works of art will be available for view, and guests will have the opportunity to enjoy live music, wine, and an opportunity to engage in coversation with artists. Find more at Cedartownshows.com.
The 8th Annual Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Georgia Polk County Golf Tournament will be Aug. 21 at Cherokee Golf and Country Club in Cedartown. Check in begins at 8 a.m. with a shotgun start at 9 a.m. Lunch and awards will follow. For more information and to register online visit www.bgcnwga.org.
Beginning Aug. 3, Tallatoona CAP will begin accepting appointments for the LIHEAP CARES Cooling Assistance Program for the general public for assistance with their electric bill. All households that did not receive LIHEAP CARES Cooling Assistance during the month of July are eligible to apply. For more information and to schedule an appointment, visit www.tallatoonacap.org or call 770-817-4666, option 2, or 770-773-7730, option 2.
The Sterling Holloway Hunny Pot Festival is making a 2020 return, schedueld for Sept. 19 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Big Spring Park in Cedartown. The second annual celebration of Cedartown native Sterling Holloway, the original voice of Disney’s Winnie the Pooh, will be a fun-filled day designed around the iconic yellow bear. Check out cedartowngeorgia.gov for more information as the festival date draws closer.
The Spooky Spokes Bike Ride and Halloween Village is being planned for Oct. 17 from 4 to 7 p.m. at 605 Lynton Drive. This is not your typical trunk or treat. In fact, there are no trunks, only good-old fashioned fun. Join us for seasonal kids’ activities, hay ride, a costume contest, bike ride and more! Keep up with event updates on cedartowngeorgia.gov.
Market on Main is coming up this fall on Nov. 7 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in downtown Cedartown. The annual festival on Main Street will showcase a variety of vendors, along with the annual parade, dog contest, kid’s activities, food and more. Visit Cedartowngeorgia.gov to find updates on Market on Main.
The Northwest Georgia Center for Independent Living holds a COVID-19 Peer Support call every Monday at 2 p.m. via the Zoom website and by phone. For the link and password, or if you need assistance, contact Christina Holtzclaw at 628-246-1825 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The NWGA Center for Independent Living is offering free Personal Protection CARE Kits to people with disabilities who live in Northwest Georgia. The kits include three face masks, two disposable thermometers, give pair of gloves and alcohol wipes. To request a kit and become a consumer, contact the center at 706-314-0008 or email@example.com.
The Rockmart Farmers Market is back in business, though with social distancing and sanitation guidelines in effect. Come take part in the market on Waters Street in downtown Rockmart on Thursdays starting at 2 p.m. Find weekly updates about available produce and more at facebook.com/rockmartfarmersmarkert.
Milltown Music Hall has information on shows that are being scheduled for this summer at milltownmusichall.com.
Want to get your event or announcement on the calendar? E-mail JStewart@polkstandardjournal.com.
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