Students were welcomed back to classrooms across Polk County this week while also becoming familiar with new guidelines and methods meant to limit the possibility of exposure to COVID-19.

After months of studying recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Georgia Department of Education, Polk County Schools Superintendent Laurie Atkins was pleased to see cooperation among students, teachers and parents to adhere to the new policies.

“This has been a smooth transition back into school. Everyone seems to be taking the extra precautions in stride,” Atkins said on Wednesday. “Within the week, we are in hopes that everyone is comfortably situated in an in-person class or logged into their digital learning platform for distance learning.”

Polk School District offered parents the option to have their children take part in distance learning through the internet. The district reported 949 students had applied for distance learning prior to the deadline. That is around 11.9% of the district’s total enrollment.

The majority of students enrolled in Polk County Schools did step foot in school buildings this week that featured sanitation stations at entrances and hand sanitizer in each classroom. Facemasks are strongly encouraged for all students and staff when they are outside of a classroom, although they are not required.

The guidelines are part of an intensive mitigation plan to try and avoid the spread of the new coronavirus as Georgia and the rest of the country deal with the ongoing pandemic. The school district’s plan includes frequent cleansing and sanitization of facilities and high-touch surfaces, and enhanced physical distancing.

Part of not having large numbers of students and teachers gather at once is having breakfast available to students as they arrive in the mornings on their way to their homeroom and having lunch in their classrooms instead of their school’s cafeteria.

Atkins said she has heard some positive comments from students and teachers about the unique situation of eating lunch in their classrooms, but she said the support they have received from outside the schools has not gone unnoticed.

“We greatly appreciate the continued support and positivity that much of our community has shown to the district. Our parents and guardians have been amazing in their understanding and cooperation with our required procedures,” Atkins said. “Whereas this is a ‘never before’ type of opening to a school year with new procedures and protocol, we have worked hard to make this a safe and successful start.”

This week also provided a look at how the school district plans to keep parents informed about the overall health and safety of schools when rumors of staff testing positive for COVID-19 began circulating on social media.

Polk School District posted a response on its Facebook page Thursday, calling the rumors “false reports” and explaining that if a confirmed case of COVID-19 is revealed then parents will be contacted.

The post also reminded parents to have their current and correct contact information on file with their child’s school as the district will issue a health report for the district every Friday through the district’s One Call Now phone system.

“Please help us dispel any rumors that hinder the progress we have made thus far this school year,” the post read. “We appreciate your continued partnership in keeping the health and well-being of our students our number one priority.”

The call that went out to parents on Friday indicated that two students at Cedartown High School had tested positive for COVID-19. The school system is continuing to monitor the situation.

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