COVID-19 shutdowns spread to more states as thousands of kids test positive

5,500 students are quarantined or infected in one large Florida district
By: | August 17, 2021

With the new school year barely underway, COVID outbreaks, mask disputes and growing levels of uncertainty for administrators dominated education news in many communities. In Tennessee, nearly 1,000 Metro Nashville Public Schools students were in quarantine at the beginning of the week, with more than 200 having tested positive for COVID, the district reported on Monday.

On Monday afternoon, families in Tennessee were given the power to opt out of school mask mandates when Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order, saying on Twitter, “No one cares more about the health & well-being of a child than a parent.”

The order allows students to go without masks inside schools, on buses and at school activities.

“Right now, some of the greatest frustration is occurring in our K-12 schools, especially around the issue of mask mandates,” Lee said in a statement. “While local decision-making is important, individual decision-making by a parent on issues regarding the health and well-being of their child is the most important.”

NOLA Public Schools in Louisiana on Monday reported nearly 300 active COVID cases and more than 3,000 individuals in quarantine. That means about 6% of the district’s students and staff have been forced to stay home.

Mask battles rage on

Elsewhere, administrators of large districts are being forced to send even greater numbers of students and staff home. Some 5,500 students are quarantined or infected by COVID in Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida, another state where administrators are clashing with a governor over mask mandates.

The Hillsborough County School Board in Florida has called an emergency meeting on Wednesday to consider a mask mandate and other mitigation measures.

School closings tracker: Where districts are shutting down again due to COVID-19 outbreaks

And in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has prohibited schools from mandating masks, Austin ISD marked the first day of school Tuesday with a mask requirement.

Austin ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said mandating masks is not an act of “political resistance or activism,” in a column she wrote for Time magazine.

“I know some people want to talk about how few deaths from COVID-19 there are for elementary school-aged children and to claim that those that did occur had comorbidities,” she wrote. “As a mom, I could not be OK with saying to you that your child’s death was statistically unlikely.”

San Antonio ISD, meanwhile, announced that all staff must get vaccinated.

Delta shuts more districts down

The first day of school in a spiking number of communities is being followed by closed buildings and entire district shutdowns as COVID once again wreaks havoc on the U.S. education system.

Last week, Georgia and Missippi were hardest hit by sudden closures that are now sweeping into the southwest and Appalachia.

Iraan-Sheffield ISD in West Texas has shut down completely until Aug. 30 and is not currently planning any virtual instruction, Superintendent Tracy Canter announced.

“Please ensure that students are truly taking this opportunity to quarantine. This means that students and staff will quarantine only with immediate family,” Canter wrote. “They should not be out and about in the community or hanging out with friends. The only way that this will work is if everyone does their part. ”

In Kentucky, the Lee County School District is closed at least until Aug. 18 after several students and staff members tested positive, Superintendent Sarah Wasson reported on Facebook.

Administrators are waiting on the test results of close contacts to those cases. “This will be a tough year and we don’t want to have to shut down this early, but if we can determine who is positive now we believe we can stay in school longer,” Wasson wrote.

The School District of Pickens County in South Carolina has shifted to virtual learning until Aug. 20 “due to the unexpected spread of COVID-19 in our schools,” administrators announced.

And more districts closed in the most impacted states. The rural Screven County School System will be closed from Aug. 19 until Sept. 7 and will shift back to virtual learning on Aug. 23.

When the district reopens, masks will be required and all students will have their temperature taken when they arrive at school.