Aug 8, 2020 - Politics & Policy

How back-to-school is playing out in the South as coronavirus rages on

A backpack with caution tape

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

K-12 students throughout the southern region of the U.S. are returning to school during the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in crowded halls, quarantines and chaos.

The big picture: Students across the country are gearing up to hit the books once again while managing social distancing and mask mandates. Districts and communities are taking a variety of approaches, some of which include hybrid online, at-home class models or schooling-from-home.

  • States including Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi largely opted to begin sending students back to class as usual, promising to implement coronavirus safety measures.
  • Reports from students' first weeks back have been mixed.

The state of play: A Georgia sophomore was issued a suspension tis week — which was later rescinded — for posting a photo on Twitter of crowded hallways with few masked faces at North Paulding High School.

  • Also in Georgia, at least 260 students in the Cherokee County School District were quarantined after 11 students and two staffers tested positive for the virus after reopening for in-person learning on Aug. 3, KTLA notes.
  • Schools in Corinth, Mississippi welcomed students last week, but sent 116 students to quarantine by week's end due to exposure, the New York Times reports.
  • A wave of schools in northern Alabama have seen staff test positive since school re-started, WAAY 31 reports.
  • Five high schoolers in south Alabama entered quarantine this week after a single day back following exposure to a positive COVID-19 case, the website "AL" reports.

Between the lines: Many school districts made an effort to guard students and staff from exposure, implementing plastic barriers and grab-and-go lunches.

What to watch: Districts will continue to start the academic year over the next few weeks. But ongoing coronavirus spikes could change whether that happens in-person or virtually.

  • The Barrow County School System in Georgia, which was slated to begin class on Aug. 17, already moved its start of the school year online after more than 90 staff members were forced to quarantine due to a coronavirus exposure or case, per CNN.
Go deeper