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MOBILE, Ala. -- Despite a surge in covid-19 cases in Alabama, state Superintendent Eric Mackey said he wants schools to return to in-person classes after the Thanksgiving holiday.

"We will do everything we can to avoid widespread closures of physical schools," Mackey told WALA-TV.

The state's covid-19 school dashboard was updated Friday to show nearly 2,300 cases last week in public schools compared with about 1,600 last week. Cases have more than doubled in two weeks.

While a statewide switch to virtual learning is off the table, the state superintendent says individual schools could switch to all-virtual learning as a last resort. Two school systems where cases rapidly increased, Alexander City and Marshall County, switched all their schools to virtual learning temporarily. Some other individual schools also have stopped in-person instruction temporarily.

Two school systems announced Friday that at least some of their classes would be going to hybrid schedules after Thanksgiving because of rising virus numbers. The Hoover school system said all students will attend two days a week, with all students staying home on Wednesday, through Jan. 18.

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Hybrid learning in for Huntsville's six high schools mean some students will be returning to class.

Three of the city's six high schools are currently fully remote because of coronavirus exposures and infections, and Superintendent Christie Finley says they all have been fully remote at one point. Finley said cases have been concentrated in high schools and the hybrid schedule will last until the end of the semester.

Huntsville also had two elementary schools that were fully remote in the week ending Friday.

Mackey said schools that close often have to shut down because too many teachers are exposed and told to quarantine, a problem that's been seen nationwide.

"You get to the point you just can't keep the school open because there's not enough adults to run the school. When that happens then we want to work with the local superintendents to close that school for as brief a period of time as possible," he said.

The virus has hit Mackey's own department as well, with him telling state school board members earlier this month that more than 50 state Department of Education employees had been sent home to quarantine after employees in two areas tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state's largest district, Mobile County, says it plans for student to return to campus after Thanksgiving.

"Our goal is to stay with in-person learning as long as we can," said Rena Philips, spokesperson for the district. She said that quarantines can be a challenge, "but so far we've been able to address those challenges."


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