MCDONOUGH, Georgia – As Tussahaw Elementary School opened this week for a new school year, tear-eyed mothers led through preschools overshadowed by backpacks and buses dropped off fifth-graders eager to run their school. The biggest clue to the lingering COVID-19 crisis was the masks worn by students and teachers – but not all.
Georgia, like most states, leaves it up to local schools to decide whether or not to require face coverings. And Henry County, 43,000 students, like many districts exhausted from months of conflict over the masks, decided not to stress them.
Instead, they are “highly recommended”.
Many parents on Wednesday in this southern suburb of Atlanta had mixed feelings about the policy. Some have kept their children at home disagreeing with this. Others sent their kids to class with face covers.
Shatavia Dorsey, the mother of one child in kindergarten and fifth grade, said her children will wear their masks to school regardless of the rules.
“They are not vaccinated because they are too young, and I don’t know if anyone else is wearing it,” said Dorsey, who doubts the school system’s ability to maintain in-person instruction in the middle. growing infections.
With the delta variant spreading rapidly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have advised in recent weeks that everyone in schools wear masks in communities with high or high transmission.
Educators faced strong resistance to masks from some parents and political leaders. Some see the mask rules as an intrusion into the authority of parents to make decisions about their children’s health.
California, Louisiana, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington state intend to require masks for all students and teachers, regardless of their immunization status. On the other end of the spectrum, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah have banned mandatory masks in public schools.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said Thursday that the decision whether or not to wear masks to school should be made by parents, adding: “What are the ill effects of putting a kindergarten child in a mask for seven time ? the academic, the physiological? Why isn’t the CDC looking into this? “
The epidemics that hit schools early in the year added to calls for more mask requirements.
In Marion, Arkansas, more than 800 students and staff have been quarantined because of the exposure since classes began last week in the 4,000 student district.
Marion Superintendent Glen Fenter urged lawmakers to repeal the state’s law banning masks, warning that a “total crisis” could occur. And Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has expressed regret for signing the ban in the first place and has called for it to be lifted. But the GOP-controlled legislature left it in place on Friday.
Later that day, an Arkansas judge barred the state from enforcing the ban until further notice.
On Friday, in another fight over the issue, the Florida Board of Education lobbied to discourage schools from making masks mandatory. The council said it will issue tuition vouchers so parents who oppose mask requirements can send their children to a private school. The money would be taken from the funding of public schools.
From the start of the pandemic to the peak of infections in January, CDC data showed children 15 and under had the lowest infection rates. Now, however, school-age children have higher infection rates than adults 50 and older.
Henry County recorded 111 cases of COVID-19 in children aged 5 to 17 in the two weeks ending July 28. Its per capita rate is one of the highest in Georgia and higher than the national figure.
Henry County Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis said she believed schools had learned to prevent transmission, citing intensified cleaning, air filtration and the use of hand sanitizer. The district also offers bonuses of $ 1,000 to its 6,000 employees to get vaccinated.
“We strongly recommend that individuals opt for a mask as an extra layer of prevention, but we also know a lot more today than a year ago,” said Davis, wearing a “I got the vaccine” sticker. “. “And what we know today is that schools are not catalysts for community spread.”
At least 28 of Georgia’s more than 180 school districts require masks, representing more than 38% of students in public schools in the state.
At Tussahaw Elementary School, more than 60% of students wore masks in four classrooms visited by a reporter on Wednesday, although some removed them. In one room, where the teacher was also unmasked, were a majority of students without face coverings.
What Tussahaw’s parents really wanted was some normalcy – the end of trying to help kids at home learn virtually, or cycle between in-person school and midlife.
“We weathered the storm, but it’s much better to be back in class,” said Bryant Thigpen after dropping off his son for the first day of fifth grade. He said he believed the school system should require masks – “at least until cases decrease”.
Daniel Denny sent his two children to Tussahaw with masks, but said the face coverings should be owned by the parents.
“To each his own,” he said. “You take care of your household as you wish. “
Kimberly Vining, a parent of two middle school students, strongly endorsed the policy, saying it will make it much easier for children with asthma or anxiousness to wear masks.
“I have faith in God and I am not going to live in fear of a virus that has a 98% survival rate,” she said.
Overall, 90% of Henry County students are returning in person, while 10% are opting for fully virtual education or a combination of the two.
Holley Freeman’s 8-year-old daughter Kalani is a stay-at-home student and learn virtually. Freeman said her family members had health issues and without a mask warrant it would be dangerous for her daughter to go to school.
“I’m really upset that we didn’t have a sure choice,” Freeman said. “I feel really upset that our community has betrayed us.”
She said her daughter took the news harshly: “She cried all the way home and cried all night and cried this morning knowing she had to log in again.”