COVID-19 exposure forces Pickens, Dooly counties to delay start of school Pickens and Dooly county school systems are pushing back the start of school due to coronavirus exposures

Dear Friends,

I rarely share my opinions on current events. I am not a politician nor a medical doctor, so I tend to allow those professionals to do their jobs whether or not I always agree with them. I am, however, a teacher, so I educate.
Here are my thoughts on reopening schools at this time as a boots-on-the-ground, frontline educational practitioner: We Are Not Ready. Now, do not misunderstand: we are ready to teach virtually, and we are getting better with that each day. When schools are able to reopen in person with students, we will be even better teachers because of the virtual experience. Ironically, the time we have spent learning how to teach virtually actually accelerates our profession to where we need to be in the 21st Century. We are not ready, however, to have full in person contact consisting of hundreds of students, faculty and staff with the expectation that no one spread or contracts COVID-19. On our second day of preplanning, we had to shut our doors just to protect the employees, and no students were even present to cause additional concern. So long as COVID-19 runs rampant, there will be too many bodies in close quarters for us to coexist in a traditional setting.

First, let me share my official public message that was sent to Dooly residents on July 29, 2020:
“Dear Dooly County Community,
As one of the largest employers in Dooly County, we also have the potential to be one of the largest carriers and spreaders of COVID-19 transmission. On July 29, 2020, we were notified that at least one of our employees has tested positive for COVID-19 infection since returning to work within the last week. Due to the nature of our work, numerous teachers and instructional staff were exposed to the individual. Per Department of Public Health guidelines, our teaching staff is quarantined from July 30-August 12, 2020. Students will receive their digital devices between the timeframe of August 13-18, 2020, and digital instruction will begin on August 19, 2020. If parents have updated all of their contact information with their schools, no further action is required of you or your students until August 19, 2020. Thank you all for your prayers and support.”

This will provide additional context to the message that you may have read in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. The message in the AJC Column was sent to reassure our parents, and I am thankful the AJC brought awareness to the whole matter. An internal communication was sent to faculty and staff, as well.

I remember how this all started on March 13, 2020. We hoarded toilet paper and other products from stores. I still can’t find Lysol. We sheltered in place and wiped down every surface, article of clothing, and ourselves zealously, hoping to fight an opponent we cannot see. We entertained ourselves with Tiger King, gardens, do-it-yourself projects, memes, and board games.

Then, the protests began. Our need to fight for what is morally and socially right placed COVID-19 in second place, and we rushed to the streets to demand justice. COVID-19, though, is still here.

Memorial Day, the unofficial start to summer, rolled around and we could no longer control our cabin fever. Pseudo-graduation celebrations, parties, barbecues, Juneteenth celebrations, Fourth of July celebrations, and trips to the beach became popular as we tried to cure our need to socialize. We wanted the world to feel normal again. COVID-19, though, is still here.

We are pushing forth trying to open schools, which are institutions that contain some of the largest concentrations of people at any given time during the work week. We are trying to have high school fall sports amidst constant practice cancellations due to COVID-19. Notwithstanding the issue of close contact among athletes and officials, we have no successfully tested protocol for how spectators can safely attend games. I believe many of us are secretly hoping that some special date, such as August 1st, Labor Day, or the end of the 1st nine weeks will be the moment in which COVID-19 will magically vanish and everything will go back to what we can now call “the good old days.” COVID-19, though is still here, and it has no intention of leaving soon.

Political clashes fueled by the protests high new high, and new lows. The Mask becomes a divisive instrument that visibly separates us. The sad thing about the mask is that by wearing one, you protect others, not yourself. Wearing the mask, while uncomfortable, shows love and respect for your fellow man. We must remember that COVID-19 does not have a political affiliation. It destroys all. Skeptics will say that COVID-19 deaths overall are low, but it only takes one death to transform your family forever. That one coronavirus death, which may have been preventable, mattered to someone.

The economy is hurting, and unemployment is a major problem. Beloved businesses and restaurants closed their doors, some forever. This leads to increased frustration that plays out on the federal, state, and local stages. Our focus shifts from fighting the disease to fighting each other. Our children are watching.

All of the things I previously mentioned influence a rush to return to school during our traditional start dates. That is where our return to school problems lie: we are not ready to return to in person schooling and be highly confident that we can protect employees and students. We are facing a virus that currently has no vaccine. Viruses are microscopic infectious agents that we cannot see. We have no idea how many of them are floating around us (and in us) at any given time in any given space. Truth be told, the COVID-19 virus is already being carried among school employees right now. Many of our employees have serious known and unknown health conditions, and exposure to COVID-19 goes home with them to their families. Based on current medical recommendations, the quarantine period after being exposed to a person with COVID-19 is roughly two weeks. What will happen in many cases is that school may take place a few days, and then a two-week quarantine may follow. This completely disrupts the flow of the educational process.

Social distancing, wearing face coverings, sheltering in place, and practicing good hygiene can help control the problem, but many of our human egos are convinced that we can ignore these rules and win a boxing match against Mother Nature. Until a vaccine is created and we collectively humble ourselves by following the rules for stopping COVID-19, we will be stuck in a vicious cycle of being chased and hunted by an invisible foe. With flu season quickly approaching, the full in person reopening of schools, in my opinion, may bring disastrous results. I hope I am wrong.

I am sincerely praying for my faculty, staff, and students. My faculty and staff are loyal, smart, hardworking, good people. My students need us, and we need them. My staff need purpose, and my students need a quality education and support. I anguish over the fact that students are losing knowledge, not building relationships due to lack of socialization, and are not learning to read. I hurt because many of my students are not get regular meals and are in abusive homes. By being apart, I feel like I am failing them. I sorely miss “regular school,” and I regret all of the moments that I took for granted with them only a few months ago. Despite how much I love my Dooly family, I love knowing they are safer from COVID with school being closed even more. My teachers are not babysitters, and my students are not test scores. These people are my Bobcat Nation. I took an oath to provide and protect them to the best of my ability, even if I cannot see or hug them physically right now.

Despite these trying times, I am confident that better days lie ahead. Schools will reopen in full swing one day, and educators and families will be stronger because of this moment in history. I ask that as we go through this season of tribulation, remember that we are going through this TOGETHER. This is a shared experience, and COVID-19 is the true common enemy, not each other. Everyone needs to do their part to eliminate this disease by following public health guidelines. It’s that simple. Our children need us to provide a happy supportive learning environment, and I pray that time is near. Today, we are not ready for traditional schooling, but we will be soon. For now, Dooly County School System will follow the science. May God Bless you all.


Dr. Craig Lockhart, NBCT
PROUD Dooly County Schools Superintendent