This is an opinion.
This school year is primed to be one like no other in Newton County — even after the bizarre year students and staff members experienced in 2020-21.
Almost 20,000 Newton County students on Monday were set to return to in-person learning in buildings at 24 schools on the first scheduled day of classes for the first time since August 2019.
Their schools’ administrators were operating under the district’s plan that face coverings should be “highly recommended” but not required for students or staff.
However, Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey clearly is ready to make a change if the number of new COVID-19 cases continue to rise locally as the disease’s Delta variant takes hold primarily on unvaccinated individuals.
Questions already arise about how the students, especially the youngest, will deal with in-person classes this year.
For example, how far behind will first-graders be as they adjust to their first year of learning in a classroom with other students? Many have spent the last year learning in front of a computer screen in their living rooms.
Will they already be behind the few students who chose to learn in-person after being given the option last year?
At only a 37% vaccination rate — well below the statewide 46% rate — Newton County appears to be squarely in the path of the variant which reportedly is more contagious and spreads more rapidly than COVID-19. Most new COVID cases are among the unvaccinated.
New cases in Newton County have risen in more than a month — from a seven-day average of three new cases on June 29 to an average of 24 new cases on July 31.
If the school system requires masks for all students, how will young students and their teachers deal with learning while adjusting their unfamiliar masks throughout the day?
Many other Georgia school districts announced mask mandates last week even as Gov. Brian Kemp repeated his vow that he won’t impose a statewide mask rule or restrict business and public activities, the Associated Press reported.
“Georgia will not lock down or impose statewide mask mandates,” Kemp tweeted as he repeated a stance that has remained consistent since he stopped ordering closures early in the pandemic in 2020.
Kemp sought to use his powers under the public health state of emergency to keep cities and counties from issuing their own mask rules. He even sued the city of Atlanta to try to block its mask mandate — though it ended in a compromise in which Kemp said cities and counties could require face coverings if infections were above a certain level.
As more school districts continued to announce last week that they will require students and employees to wear masks, it pushed the share of Georgia public school students covered by mask mandates above 30%, according to Associated Press calculations.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Health reported nearly 4,000 positive COVID-19 tests on one day last week — the most reported since Feb. 11.
The simple solution would be for more Newton Countians to get vaccinated, send the numbers down again and not give school officials a reason for taking extreme measures to keep students educated.
Children need to be in a school building with other children for a number of good reasons beyond the educations they receive. They learn how to interact in positive ways with others. Many rely on the schools to provide breakfast and lunch regularly.
Here’s hoping we all provide a little more sanity to our daily interactions with others — and let our kids have a normal school year again.
Tom Spigolon is news editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at email@example.com.