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Georgia school district will now only offer virtual learning after 90 staff members are forced to quarantine

(CNN) — A school district in Georgia has decided to start the school year with virtual learning, after more than 90 staff members were forced to quarantine due to a confirmed or suspected case of Covid-19, or due to being exposed to someone who did.

“If today was the first day of school, we would have been hard-pressed to have sufficient staff available to open our schools,” Barrow County Schools Superintendent Chris McMichael said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Barrow County School System, about 50 milesnortheast of Atlanta, planned to start with both in-person and remote instruction August 17. Now, only virtual learning will be available after dozens of county staff had to quarantine “due to a confirmed case of Covid-19, a suspected case, or direct contact with a confirmed case,” the district’s statement said.

An estimated 5.6% of the approximately 1,600 staff that had been in school buildings for more than a week to conduct pre-planning were out, the superintendent said in a school board meeting on Wednesday. Staff were required to wear masks inside, per the district.

“That causes us a lot of concern right now,” McMichael said.

At Wednesday’s school board meeting, McMichael also cited community spread in the county, which has just over 1,200 cases of Covid-19 as of Friday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Barrow County Schools did not give a date for the resumption of in-person instruction, but said it would present a phased approach as soon as possible.

Barrow County’s situation was similar to that of its neighbor, Gwinnett County, the largest school district in Georgia. Gwinnett opted for virtual learning after at least 260 staff members either tested positive or had been in contact with someone who was positive. But while Gwinnett is set to reopen with online learning August 12, the superintendent said students will return to class in phases beginning August 26 — a decision that’s provoked the ire of teachers.

As in Gwinnett County, McMichael told CNN affiliate WSB that most Barrow County teachers will teach virtually from school while students learn from home.

Barrow’s switch to virtual learning has been met with anger from some parents who plan to protest outside the district’s headquarters on Friday evening, WSB reported.

The district’s statement this week acknowledged “the difficulties that 100% online learning will cause for families.” Barrow County School System plans to share more information on Friday about distribution of devices and food.

“It was our sincere desire to welcome students back into schools for in-person learning. We know that students learn best inside a traditional classroom,” McMichael said. “We are attempting to make that happen while keeping student and staff safety at the forefront.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of Barrow County relevant to Atlanta. It is to the northeast.