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Preston County’s public school system is closing for about two weeks due to COVID-19, a pause that also extends to sports and other extracurricular activities.

Superintendent Steve Wotring said 965 students were absent Monday. While this fall’s enrollment figure isn’t yet available, Preston has averaged about 4,300 students each of the past three years.

Wotring said he was away from his desk late Monday afternoon and couldn’t say how many of those 965 are actually infected with the coronavirus, compared to how many are quarantined but testing negative so far.

The state Department of Education’s COVID-19 school spread tracker didn’t list any outbreaks at Preston schools as of early Monday evening.

Wotring also said a mixture of infections and quarantines among school employees meant he had eight classrooms Monday that he couldn’t even find substitutes to fill.

“And that number is growing,” he said of the staffing problems.

The county school system has required masks for students and employees since Aug. 31, according to the state education department.

Preston students are supposed to do paper or online assignments Tuesday and Wednesday while teachers shift their lessons online. Students will begin logging onto online classes Thursday, Wotring said.

“They haven’t been preparing two different options for each day,” he said, regarding why teachers need Tuesday and Wednesday to transition.

Classrooms will reopen Sept. 27, allowing for at least 10 days of quarantining, he said.

Public schools previously closed across three other counties — Barbour, Clay and Monroe — for just the week before Labor Day. COVID-19-related issues were also cited for those closures.

The education department’s COVID-19 school closure tracker didn’t show Preston’s closure as of early Monday evening, but it did show all Calhoun County schools are currently closed through Wednesday.

Guidance from the department says “schools may consider closing for a 10-day period to slow transmission if recommended by the local health department to the county superintendent based on meeting one of the thresholds.”

Preston students will miss nine in-person instruction days during this closure.

One of the optional closure thresholds in the state guidance is a school being “unable to maintain a safe school environment due to the number of staff out.” How many staff absences renders a school unsafe isn’t defined further.

The other threshold is “school baseline absenteeism” doubling average daily absences specifically because of “students out with COVID-19.”

Ryan Quinn covers education. He can be reached at 304-348-1254 or ryan.quinn@hdmediallc.com. Follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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