Georgia district struggles to teach online; quarantines grow

Georgia’s largest school district has struggled to launch online learning for its 180,000 students, as parents complained that they failed to log in to Gwinnett County’s online system

ATLANTA —
Georgia’s largest school district struggled Wednesday to launch online learning for its 180,000 students, as parents complained that they and their students repeatedly tried and failed to log in to Gwinnett County’s online system.

And the largest district in Georgia that’s currently trying to offer face-to-face classes has now quarantined more than 1,110 students, a one-day increase of more than 300 children, because of possible coronavirus exposure since classes resumed last week in Cherokee County.

Gwinnett County is among the large metro Atlanta districts that have chosen to offer virtual classes to all of its students at the beginning of the year. Like many schools nationwide this year, Gwinnett wants to offer much more real-time learning, instead of the work-at-your-own pace options that were the most common in the spring.

But technology troubles could make that difficult. A system test Monday had already produced widespread difficulties, when many students couldn’t sign in. District officials pledged improvement, but Wednesday brought the same complaints.

“While Gwinnett County Public Schools has more than 90,000 users online this morning, we know some users have reported difficulties logging into the portal and some applications,” the district wrote on its Facebook page. “Technology staff are working to resolve these issues. If a student experiences issues, they should wait a few minutes and attempt to log in again. Thank you for your patience.”

Individual schools also asked parents and students to keep trying, with some reporting sporadic access. Others, though, reported no problems

“My kids were able to get logged in, they were fortunate,” said Johnnie Dardar, whose 8th grade and 11th grade sons attend school in Dacula. He said they had struggled with the Monday test but “things went off without a hitch” on Wednesday.

Around 70 students and staff members in the 40,000-student Cherokee County district have tested positive for COVID-19, according to data added Wednesday to the district’s website. It’s unclear whether any of them were infected at school.

On Tuesday, the district listed at least 826 students had been quarantined but by Wednesday that number jumped to 1,156. With 37 staff members also on the quarantine list, there are almost 1,200 people isolating themselves to stop the spread of the virus.

Cherokee County parent Miranda Wickert withdrew her two children to homeschool them this year in search of stability. She said the wave of quarantines are proving her fear correct that there would be waves of openings and closings.

“I just don’t know this is sustainable,” she said. “I don’t know how this is equitable, this constant in and out of school.”

On Monday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said the reopening of some of the state’s schools amid the coronavirus outbreak has gone well — except for viral photos of students crowded together without masks.

Cherokee County School District Superintendent Brian Hightower on Tuesday said the district was temporarily shutting down Etowah High School, which has reported 17 positive cases and 294 students in quarantine, starting Wednesday and hoped to reopen the school on Aug. 31.

The school made headlines last week after a photo showed dozens of maskless students squeezed together for first-day-of-school senior photos.

“We anticipated positive tests among students and staff could occur, which is why we put a system into place to quickly contact trace, mandate quarantines, notify parents and report cases and quarantines to the entire community,” a spokeswoman for the district, Barbara Jacoby, said in an email Tuesday. “We are not hesitating to quarantine students and staff who have had possible exposure to a student or staff member who has tested positive.”

The quarantines have affected more than 20 schools in the district.

The district gave parents the option of sending their children to school or having them learn from home to start the year. Nearly a quarter chose to learn from home.

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Desiree Mathurin contributed to this report.