Some high-profile positive COVID-19 cases early in the school year led to a slight change in the way Polk School District dealt with the virus, both in classrooms and online.

But a month after an unscheduled week break for students and the switch to a four-day school week, Superintendent Laurie Atkins says she feels the system is in a much better place for the safety of staff and students.

Atkins sent a letter home to parents on Aug. 12 — a week and a half after the start of school — announcing that students would be out of school the following week Aug. 17-21 to allow teachers to work on their online lesson plans to better serve students in the classroom as well as those who may have to miss class due to a mandatory quarantine period.

In addition to that, beginning the week of Aug. 24, Polk School District began four-day weeks for students where they only attend classes Tuesday through Friday with the plan to continue the schedule through the first semester.

“I believe the break we had the week of Aug. 17 was extremely beneficial. It gave the much needed time for our teachers to shift into teaching face-to-face and prepare online lessons for distance learners,” Atkins wrote in reply to questions emailed to her by The Polk County Standard Journal.

The break also allowed for deeper cleaning of facilities, with Mondays also being utilized to do extra cleaning of buildings and classrooms as needed to curb transmission of the virus.

Atkins said with the extra cleaning and other precautions put in place at the start of the school year, such as physical distancing and limiting movement between classes, they have started to see fewer positive cases among students and employees.

“We are continuing to see a decrease in the numbers of positive COVID cases in the schools. We are very appreciative of our students and educators who are following our safety protocols daily. We have only been seeing four to six positive cases throughout the district each week,” she said.

Atkins said she has heard positive feedback from teachers about having the extra day of preparation each week to allow them to coordinate their in-person and distance learning lesson plans.

“I am pleased with the work our teachers have done to prepare for multiple modes of instruction,” Atkins said.

Aside from instances of positive COVID-19 cases on the Cedartown High School football team and the Rockmart High School volleyball team forced each program to cancel contests at the start of the season, the system’s varsity sports and extracurricular activities have not had to cancel contests or performances.

“We have been able to move forward with our extracurricular activities due to students, educators and parents adhering to the safety protocols we have established,” Atkins said. “It especially helps that (most of) these activities are held outdoors.”

The school board held its annual planning retreat on Sept. 12 where members discussed their training calendar and ESPLOST projects.

The board also heard from Cedartown Police Chief Jamie Newsome regarding the possibility of installing speed-detection cameras and license plate readers in front of schools located inside the city’s limits.

The option to place the cameras in school zones to catch speeding drivers is allowed by Georgia House Bill 978, which was passed into law during the 2018 legislative session.

Newsome said the city would use the company RedSpeed, which is the same company Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd said his agency would partner with in a proposal to put the devices on the roadways in front of Van Wert Elementary and Youngs Grove Elementary, which are the only two schools located completely in the unincorporated part of the county.

The option would have to be approved by the city or county government where the schools are located if the school board approves the plans.

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