Challenges await Ware County schools as students return to classrooms

Students will not return to class until Jan. 11

Ware County Schools said its return-to-school plans are designed to be flexible so it can quickly adjust as needed.

WAYCROSS, Ga. – As Ware County students prepare to return to school on Monday, the school board held a short meeting Wednesday morning to discuss some of the challenges that could follow.

Ware County closed its schools three days before winter break was scheduled to begin due to a rise in COVID-19 cases among staff members, bus drivers and students.

“Over the course of the break, school system officials have remained in contact with local health officials and monitored COVID case counts,” said Paige Coker, director of special projects for the district, in a release announcing the change.

School board members said Wednesday there are still at least six bus drivers who are unable to work due to coronavirus exposure, which could cause transportation issues. About 200 students have decided to end virtual learning and return to classrooms, the district said.

“We are going to see how it goes on Monday,” said Superintendent Bert Smith, adding that masks will still be required on buses.

The board also voted to extend a paid leave option for employees, offering 10 days of leave from Jan. 1 through June 30 for those affected by the coronavirus.

“We are trying to do all we can to help employees with the leave,” Smith said.

Hospital capacity was a topic for the school board in a county that has reported 76 deaths and 249 hospitalizations since the pandemic began. Twenty additional cases were reported Tuesday.

School officials said Waycross hospital Memorial Satilla Health was diverting possible ER and ICU patients due to capacity issues. Hospitals in neighboring counties are also filling up quickly.

The district said it’s possible that a student or employee may have to travel up to an hour to reach the closest available hospital and it’s working through a plan on how to handle that.

About the Authors:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.