In the Atlanta space, some college districts would require mask. The state’s greatest district is taking a special way

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But the Gwinnett County School District, north of Atlanta, is making mask non-compulsory for now, and Sara Holton Gard fears that might go away her circle of relatives stuck within the heart.

“I’m confident in her wearing a mask at school,” Holton Gard says of her daughter. “But I don’t have confidence that the rest of the kids will. And that makes me very nervous …

“I fear that she is going to get into college, come house at some point and say no one’s dressed in their mask and I’m going to mention then I’ve to drag you out of college.”

That would mean Holton Gard’s husband would have to drop out of the workforce to help handle schooling duties again, similar to last year, a situation she called “unsustainable.”

Having folks come to a decision, albeit with a “robust advice” for masks from Gwinnett, is one of a patchwork of school mask policies taking shape across the nation that are already confusing and upsetting families and staff as the school year approaches.

The district believes its approach is “the easiest way to maintain issues at this actual time,” said Bernard Watson, director of community and media relations for Gwinnett County Public Schools, which is the state’s largest school district.

“We remember that individuals are involved in this virus and (it) is inflicting super hurt and ache throughout this country for the ultimate couple of years,” he said. “So once more, we’re encouraging everybody who’s who is eligible for the vaccine to get vaccinated. And we are encouraging other people to put on mask, we are recommending strongly recommending that individuals put on mask once they come into our constructions.”

While Holton Gard appreciates that recommendation, she believes it doesn’t go far enough and will create problems at school.

“I feel that it leaves such a lot as much as our academics who’re already seeking to organize our school rooms of 25 and 30 scholars, and ‘strongly inspired’ is not a rule,” she says. “So, give the scholars a rule in order that the lecturers can implement a rule. If the rule of thumb is everybody wears a masks, that might make me more than pleased, it will make me extra happy with sending my kid to in user college, and it will practice public well being tips.”

Districts and parents take stands

The debate about how schools should handle Covid-19 protocols has been a divisive issue in Gwinnett County and across the country. School districts, parents, health departments and state officials are grappling with how to return students to classrooms safely at a time when the Delta variant is driving a surge in cases across the country and while younger students are still unable to be vaccinated.
Atlanta Public Schools and DeKalb County schools, just south of Gwinnett, have taken a different tactic. Masks are being mandated for students.

That piecemeal approach has been frustrating for parents throughout Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp declined to issue state guidance but signed an executive order restricting schools from using the state’s public health emergency as a reason for their decisions.

DeKalb superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris says her goal is to make sure everyone is safe as children return to school.

“We’re doing (a masks mandate) out of an abundance of warning to be sure that all our kids and our team of workers are secure,” said DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris. “We know that there is numerous divide, that there are some individuals who need mask, individuals who are not looking for mask. But my process because the CEO or head educator of our college district is to be sure that I take away as many boundaries as conceivable to be sure that our academics really feel secure, that our households really feel secure, and most significantly, our kids are again in class in a position to be told.”

Schools in the nation’s three biggest school districts — New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago — will be requiring masks when the school year begins this fall. But others, like Houston, Texas, and Miami-Dade County and Hillsborough County in Florida, are among those who are making masks optional for students.

Vocal opponents to mask mandates have led to raucous school board meetings in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Barrington, Illinois.

Virginia Beach parents argued to the school board last week there should be no mask mandate because of data around children being relatively safe from severe Covid-19 and the fact that masks are no longer required in most other indoor places in the state.

“Masks are non-compulsory virtually all over the place that our kids play, the place they reside, the place their folks paintings, it is non-compulsory. And but, we are nonetheless requiring them to be masked in our college constructions?” said mother Lori Sharp.

The meeting was stopped at one point because the debate had gotten so heated. School board members said they’re following the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Virginia’s health commissioner when they decided to mandate masks.

American Academy of Pediatrics recommends masks in schools for everyone over 2, regardless of vaccinations

At the end of the more than four-hour meeting, the Virginia Beach school board voted against a motion which would make mask-wearing in school optional for the upcoming school year. The board voted 6-4 against the effort, keeping masks mandatory for the district’s 63,000 students and more than 4,000 teachers in September. But that can still change before school reopens.

In Barrington, Illinois, children were among the speakers who asked to not wear masks. Others at the meeting wanted the school to follow guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommended last week universal masking in schools of everyone over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC recently updated its school guidance, saying everyone 2 and older who is not fully vaccinated should wear a mask indoors.

That meeting finished without a decision on the mask policy.

Watson-Harris, the Dekalb County superintendent, said she understands the varying views on the mask issue and that administrators are trying their best to come up with solutions that put safety first but take into consideration many diverse views.

“I’ve heard from some folks that they’re uncomfortable with their kid dressed in a masks all day, they do not assume that there is science that helps the verdict,” she said. “But to that finish, we are running in masks breaks. We’re running in instances for kids to move out of doors up to conceivable and be socially far away, to take away their mask. We’re seeking to take all of the ones issues under consideration. But that is the number one pushback, that they only do not assume that there is science that helps the verdict for obligatory mask. They assume that the kids are uncomfortable, after which they are apprehensive about that.”

Keeping up with changes

Mandating masks is not the sole point of contention in schools around the country. The issue of testing policies, what levels of community spread could trigger shutting down a school, and policies related to how schools will quarantine children or classmates if there are positive cases have become another point of disagreement.

Children returned to Chandler Unified Schools last week, the second largest school district in Arizona. The first day went “exceedingly neatly,” according to a spokesman for the district.

Child cases of Covid-19 are rising as schools gear up to reopen. But vaccines for the youngest are still months away

“Our scholars and team of workers have protocols down,” said Terry Locke, director of community relations for the district. “It was once ultimate yr that was once so difficult, as it was once so new to us.”

But the district’s protocols are still changing. Chandler Unified updated its quarantine policy as of Monday, making quarantining optional for students with known exposure to Covid-19.

The school district said the changes were directly related to an edict from Gov. Doug Ducey’s office last week, which told two other school districts to withdraw their policy of requiring unvaccinated students to quarantine if they were exposed to Covid, saying it was against state law. Those schools said through a lawyer they disagreed with the governor. The issue has yet to be resolved.

Masks are optional for the Chandler Unified for now, but that is also subject to change depending on the local transmission levels in Maricopa County. The district also said it will “handle a heightened consciousness of scholars and team of workers habits referring to masks bullying.”

Most schools have said they will continue to evaluate the transmission rates and community spread and have said the situation will remain fluid throughout the year.

Schools in Gwinnett County, Georgia, offered full in-person school for much of last year, and did require masks inside.

In first-grader Audrey’s Gwinnett County school district, it’s already a change from last academic year when students who returned to in-person school were all required to mask up.

Audrey’s mother says she understands the anger coming from parents who disagree with her, especially after a frustrating year for families juggling schooling from home.

“But I even have to mention, glance, public well being says somebody who is no longer vaccinated must be dressed in a masks at all times in public,” Holton Gard says.

She says when her family made the decision to choose in-person learning in April, she was feeling good about declining Covid-19 levels and hoped the majority of eligible Georgians would be vaccinated.

Only 40% of Georgia residents have been fully vaccinated, according to the Georgia Health Department. Holton Gard is concerned about the surge in cases from the Delta variant.

And she’s grown exasperated with her school board and their decision not to mandate masks. But she will do the best she can to help her daughter Audrey ease into the first grade

“I’m very annoyed. I’m out of endurance at this level,” she says. “But because the mum or dad I’ve to place at the courageous face, persuade my kids that we are doing this and we are all on this in combination. But at the within, I’m annoyed. I’m livid.”


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