The winter holiday break has come and gone, and across Limestone County, students returned to traditional or virtual learning Wednesday for the second semester of the 2020-2021 school year.

Students, teachers and administrators in Athens City and Limestone County school districts have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created a year of learning unlike any other students have experienced.

Superintendent Beth Patton said things have gone “really well” for Athens City Schools this week.

“So far, our COVID numbers have been low, but we have been watching them closely because there have been a lot of positive cases in the area,” she said.

She said the potential for an outbreak after the winter holiday season is still a concern, but “hopefully we've gotten through the worst of anything caused by the Christmas gatherings.”

“I still think we have a few weeks to go of being observant after the New Year's holiday,” she said. “We have experienced something like none of us have before this school year, and we are doing the best we can with the information we have.”

Patton told The News Courier on Friday that only 13% of ACS students remain as remote learners, down from 19% in October. According to the superintendent's report at the last Athens City Schools Board of Education meeting of 2020, the system had 4,533 students.

Patton said ACS is hoping to add some extended stay or summer opportunities once more CARES Act funding becomes available, in order to “help fill any gaps in learning for students.”

County schools

LCS Superintendent Randy Shearouse said things have been better this week as far as the number of COVID cases are concerned.

He said systemwide, there are 192 students being quarantined and 34 who have tested positive for coronavirus, along with 18 staff members on quarantine and 26 who have tested positive.

“Those numbers are much lower than in December, and we certainly hope that trend continues,” he said. “Most of these positive cases are going to be individuals who were exposed during the Christmas break.”

Like ACS, Shearouse said LCS has had an increase in the number of students returning to the traditional classroom setting this semester, especially among elementary age pupils.

This week, LCS had 6,755 students registered as traditional learners, up from 6,219 at the end of December. There are now 1,722 virtual students remaining in the system.

“We were able to move some virtual teachers back to their schools, and we have had a positive start back,” Shearouse said. “(Thursday,) we had a little scare whether or not it would snow, but the temperature stayed up and we didn't have any impact.”

He said LCS has “great hopes” that things involving COVID-19 will improve by this spring, especially with a vaccine being released to different groups over time.

“Some of our nurses have been vaccinated already, and hopefully the situation will get better when teachers get the vaccine,” he said.

He said he is glad students in the system have been able to participate in winter sports, and like ACS, the county system will be looking at adding to programs this spring and/or summer to help any students who have fallen behind in their studies.

“My hope is that everyone can really enjoy the things we usually enjoy as students, teachers and parents as part of the school experience in the spring,” Shearouse said.

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