Atlanta schools to require masks for all students, staff

July 22, 2021 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta Public Schools will implement a “universal mask wearing” policy in all of its school buildings when the new school year starts Aug. 5, the district announced Thursday.

In a statement, the school system cited the dangers of the Delta variant of the coronavirus and guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Just 18% of eligible students in the Atlanta school system are fully vaccinated and 58% of its employees have said they are either fully vaccinated or plan to be, officials said.

The school system noted that the pediatrics academy recommends that all students and staff wear masks — regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated. It also mentioned the federal Centers for Disease Control in announcing the mask mandate.

“Given our low vaccination rates and increasing community spread, the CDC acknowledges that universal masking would be appropriate,” the school system said in the statement.

Face coverings will be optional during outdoor activities, such as physical education classes and recess, the district said.

About 50,000 students attend Atlanta Public Schools.

Atlanta’s policy is roughly the same as two other larger suburban Atlanta school districts — DeKalb County and Clayton County, which have said they will require all students and employees to wear masks at all times indoors.

But the other seven of Georgia’s 10 largest school districts have either dropped their mandatory mask policies or never had them. Those dropping mask mandates include Gwinnett County, the state’s largest, as well as the Cobb County, Fulton County, Henry County and Savannah-Chatham school districts.

Two of Georgia’s 10 largest school districts, Forsyth County and Cherokee County, never required masks.

In all those districts, students and teachers can wear masks if they want, but are not required to do so.

A few districts are trying to split the difference, requiring masks in some situations but not in others. The Athens-based Clarke County school district is requiring all students on buses and all students in prekindergarten through sixth grade to wear a mask, at least indoors. But all vaccinated employees at any level and vaccinated students in grades 7-12 will not have to wear masks.