As the delta variant of the coronavirus leads Georgia and the United States into a new wave of infections, Gwinnett County is requiring students and teachers to mask up.
The full news release from Gwinnett County Public Schools is below.
In response to the latest guidance for K-12 schools issued on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Gwinnett County Public Schools has updated its back-to-school plans to require masks. As of July 28, 2021, masks will be required for students, staff, and visitors to all Gwinnett County Public Schools’ facilities and on school buses, regardless of vaccination status. This decision takes into account current conditions, the rise in COVID-19 case rates in Gwinnett County, and the ineligibility of children age 12 and younger for the vaccine.
In announcing the district’s position, CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks affirmed that Gwinnett County Public Schools will follow the CDC’s recommendations. “The facts and recommendations are clear… masks do make a difference and we must do all we can to keep students in school, in person.”
In addition to the CDC’s guidance calling for masks to be worn by everyone in the K-12 environment and recent recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the following considerations also played a role in today’s decision by district leaders:
- GCPS’ primary concern is the health and safety of students and staff.
- It is critical for students to be in school and to benefit from in-person instruction.
- Elementary students and young middle school students currently are not eligible to be vaccinated.
- Many GCPS students and employees who are eligible to be vaccinated are not vaccinated.
- The CDC and other health partners indicate wearing a mask is a key tool, even for vaccinated individuals, in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
- A federal executive order requires all students on school buses to wear masks.
- In the classroom setting, students who are identified as close contacts to a student who is positive for COVID-19 will not have to quarantine if both students are wearing masks. Quarantined individuals could be out of school for up to two weeks.
In light of the latest CDC guidance and the district’s decision to require masks, GCPS will allow families to make a change in their child(ren)’s instructional preference (either in-person or digital) through Monday, August 2. Families should contact their local school should they wish to make a change. In sharing why the district has set this deadline, Mr. Wilbanks explained, “We realize this does not allow families a lot of time to make this decision, but we must have this information by this date to ensure schools are staffed appropriately to serve students and student schedules are finalized prior to the start of school.”
Schools will communicate with their staff members about scheduling mask breaks during the school day, providing times when students can take off their masks. In addition to these breaks and during lunch, children will be allowed to take off their masks while they are outside (on the playground, etc.) Students in band and PE will have times during the day in which they will not wear masks (i.e. cardio exercises, etc.). Accommodations will be made for students and employees unable to wear a mask for documented medical reasons, for instance, a pulmonary condition such as asthma or sensory issues.
Mr. Wilbanks indicated that, in light of today’s announcement by the CDC and the steady upward trend in cases in Gwinnett, this is the most prudent course of action. He said, “A layered approach is needed to keep our students safe and in school. Masks are one of the tools proven to be effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. It is time for us to mask up and take advantage of vaccination opportunities to help our community get past the pandemic.”
With this in mind, GCPS is doing its part by placing an emphasis on wearing masks to start the school year more safely and will continue to encourage our GCPS community to get vaccinated. The district is partnering with the Gwinnett Health Department to host a weekly vaccination clinic at Discovery High School every Wednesday from 3-7 p.m. through the end of August.
While disappointed that the school year will start with masks, GCPS is very happy that its students will be starting the school year in person. Please know that district leaders will continue to monitor for new guidance from the CDC, health partners, and the state, using it to make updates throughout the 2021–22 school year.
Gwinnett County now averages 151 new coronavirus cases per day, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. In the last two weeks the county has seen 1,055 new cases of COVID-19.
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