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Schools Reopen In Georgia With Varying Levels Of Success


It looked sort of like a normal school day in Georgia, and that's what makes it all so surprising. There were these pictures of students shuffling to class in crowded hallways not wearing masks. At another school in Georgia, several students tested positive for the coronavirus. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Ellen Eldridge is in Cherokee County, where schools are open for business. And she joins us now.

Hi, Ellen.


MARTIN: So just walk us through what happened. Schools opened, then what?

ELDRIDGE: Yeah. Well, this week, it started out really well. There were a lot of excited students, parents, teachers. The kids, of course, were excited to go back to school and see their friends after being in quarantine.

MARTIN: Right.

ELDRIDGE: Everybody's doing their best even though we're living through a pandemic. For the most part, teachers felt pretty anxious. They had little time to prepare. The expectations were high. And I think, overall, parents didn't really expect outbreaks and cases to start coming up this first week. But for as much of the negativity, there are still many people who are positive and excited about the first week back to school.

MARTIN: Right. You mentioned teachers. I mean, clearly, teachers around the country have been really anxious about getting back in the physical classroom and the risk and the exposure that they themselves might get. Have you been able to talk to any of them?

ELDRIDGE: Yeah. I've spoken to many educators, most of them off the record. They're afraid of retaliation, afraid of losing their jobs. Many teachers have said privately that they feel they're actually being threatened by the administration if they do speak out. And you know, it's clear that as afraid they are of the virus, they have been provided hand sanitizer. There are custodians in the schools and a plan.

One of the teachers I spoke with - she's a former teacher in the district, Miranda Wicker - she's become kind of a de facto voice for the teachers. She said some teachers even had to make the decision to leave, and I spoke to one instructor who resigned before classes even started.

MIRANDA WICKER: Teachers deeply love their profession, their calling. It's a calling for most of them. It's not something they just do. So to walk away from it takes just a tremendous amount of force to push them into that.

ELDRIDGE: So yeah, the teachers - I mean, they love what they do. They went into this with purpose. But they weren't expecting, you know, a virus, the pandemic. And they've been told so far in Cherokee County that they're not allowed to do any additional safety measures. They're not allowed to even spend their own money to bring in the plastic partitions. So you know - and most importantly, they wanted - they were protesting before school even opened. They wanted mask mandates in schools, and that just hasn't happened.

MARTIN: Right. So tell me more about parents. I mean, I know a lot of parents are very excited if their school district is opening. But it's a different ballgame when you get confirmed cases.

ELDRIDGE: Yeah. And a lot of what I'm hearing - there are a good number of parents who are excited. They - you know, they don't view the schools as babysitters, but they see it as a place of education, social interaction, growth. All those things, of course, are crucial. But the fact is that we just don't know that much about the virus and how it transmits. And you know, the outbreaks were expected. And most parents feel that they - you know, they made the right decision. One parent, Jamie Chambers (ph) - he's been very outspoken. He feels more confident in his decision to start with digital learning, so he's happy about that.

JAMIE CHAMBERS: It is still so disruptive. Essentially, I'm expecting to see more of the same. I think entire classrooms will be quarantined. I will be amazed if we make it to Labor Day without an entire district-wide shutdown.

MARTIN: So we'll just have to see about that, right? I mean, school districts are going to have to be nimble - I imagine closures, openings as cases pop up over the school year.

Ellen Eldridge of Georgia Public Broadcasting. We appreciate you. Thanks.

ELDRIDGE: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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