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'Scared to death': Parents and teachers worry about upcoming school year

Lisa Morgan, President of the Georgia Association of Educators, says it is too early to send students back to the classroom and teachers are afraid

HOUSTON COUNTY, Ga. — As school districts across the state are rolling out their plans for the school year, parents and teachers have some concerns.

Some schools are making students choose between online or in-person learning.

Others are offering a mix of the two.

Almost all of them are recommending masks, but not requiring them.

Caly Hess lives in Bonaire and is planning to send her son back to the classroom.

Robert Reese lives in Centerville and is keeping his 12-year-old daughter at home.

Something both parents have in common is that they believe masks should be required, but when they saw Houston County's plan for the 2020-2021 school year, they were disappointed. 

RELATED: Houston County students have online or in-person options for school year

"I was livid. We didn't know what to expect," says Hess.

Reese says he was shocked.

"It is absolutely unbelievable that they are not requiring masks."

Reese says that is a large reason why his seventh-grader is choosing the online learning option.

"It's only going to take one kid going into a classroom with 20 other kids to get 20 kids infected, take that home and infect 20 families."

Hess' son wants to go back so he can take part in extracurricular activities, which he is not allowed to do if he selects the online option.

"It should be a mandated thing. If they are in person, wear a mask. I know it stinks," she says. "The fact is, if the masks were mandated at minimum, even if the kids missed that temperature check, they are less likely to spread it."

Hess says she isn't happy about sending her 16-year-old back, but with the options they were given, this is what works best for him.

"They have got to hybrid it or it’s going to end in absolute disaster."

Hess has even started a petition on Change.org calling for Houston County schools to mandate masks.

It's a sentiment echoed by the Georgia Association of Educators, which represents teachers from all over the state.

"In most of the plans, masks, which we are told is the best mitigating factor, are not being required," says President Lisa Morgan.

She says it's just too early to send students back and teachers are afraid.

"I have heard the words 'scared to death to go back' multiple times," she says. "It is not safe for us to return to our school buildings with our students at this time."

Morgan also says she recommends teachers avoid signing any waiver of liability given to them by their school, but she says she hasn't heard of that happening in Georgia, yet.

She says schools have plans to get everyone back in the door, but what happens when someone gets sick?

"We go back, and two weeks later we have an outbreak in a school. How is that going to be handled?"

She says there are so many unanswered questions. 

What happens if a teacher gets sick and they don’t have any more sick days?

Will they be able to bring in substitute teachers?

She says pushing back the first day of school will give administrators more time to plan and have answers for these questions.

Between July 1st and July 12th, the number of COVID-19 cases in people under the age of 17 has risen by more than 60 percent.

"That will increase exponentially if we are in the classrooms, full classrooms, which is what most of the plans call for."

Only one child has died from the virus in the state so far, but Morgan is asking school leaders, "How many is too many?"

'What's your number? How many children, students, staff, family members is it acceptable to you to become sick or tragically pass away because we go back to school? Tell me your number. Our number is zero," she says. "It is unacceptable for that to happen because we rushed reopening buildings because we want to feel normal."

Last week, Houston County Superintendent Mark Scott told us they are recommending masks, but not requiring them.

RELATED: Q&A with Houston County Superintendent Mark Scott on district's fall plans

However, Scott says as the school year gets closer and they continue to get new data, that could change.

The deadline to register for online learning has been extended to July 14th at 4:30 p.m.

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