Monday marks the first day of school for some of metro Atlanta’s biggest school districts.
The following districts are heading back today: Carrollton City, Cherokee County, Clayton County, Cobb County, DeKalb County, Fayette County, Greene County, Morgan County, Newton County, Paulding County and Pickens County.
Carrollton City Schools, Clayton County and DeKalb County are requiring masks for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status.
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Here’s what students and parents for Monday’s districts need to know for the first day back.
Carrollton City Schools
Carrollton City Schools updated its COVID-19 protocols Friday, reversing its mask policy decision. Masks will now be required for students and staff in classrooms and on school buses, regardless of vaccination status.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Albertus cited a “significant spike” in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and the city being a high transmission area.
“Based on our experience, this will help slow the spread of the new variant, keep our kids safe, and keep kids learning at school. We are going to use common sense with mask use in the buildings. We will continue to spread out kids and take mask breaks throughout the day,” he said.
In a release on July 14, Cherokee County School District said it plans to return to pre-pandemic school operations for the 2021-2022 school year.
The district will have a mask optional policy in effect. COVID-19 vaccinations are not required for employees or students, but leaders do encourage and recommend them.
The Cherokee County Health Department and local healthcare providers have COVID-19 vaccines readily available. The district said there are currently no plans to host COVID-19 vaccination events at CCSD schools or offices.
“While we’re excited about bringing back so many aspects of school put on hold for the past year and a half, from field trips to assemblies to classroom volunteers, we also know that COVID-19 may force changes to our operations,” Dr. Brian V. Hightower said in a newsletter to parents. “We encourage and recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine. As we did last year, we will continuously monitor caseloads in our community and schools (every Friday, we will post online the totals of active cases among students and staff), take appropriate action and keep you informed.”
Cherokee County Schools is projecting that 40,938 students will be enrolled in the district this school year. There will be 6,202 employees, including 345 new teacher hires.
[SPECIAL SECTION: Channel 2′s complete guide for back to school 2021 in north Georgia]
Clayton County is focused on the return of face-to-face learning but will also offer an online learning experience for K-12 students through its School Based Virtual Learning Program. VLP students and face-to-face learners will operate on the same daily instructional schedule.
The school district will require all students and staff will wear masks at all times and encourage social distancing of 3 feet when possible. Visitors will be allowed to visit schools on the first two days of school.
“If they don’t have a mask on, we’re going to let the principals and teachers handle it in the best way that they deem appropriate,” Clayton County Superintendent Dr. Morcease Beasely told Channel 2′s Linda Stouffer.
“The child may have a reason for not wearing a mask. There are many situations. We expect adults to make critical decisions using the best decision making skills.”
Beasely says the district has all the tools necessary to keep the students engaged.
“In my opinion, no loss or reduction in engagement at all,” he said. “As a matter of fact, shame on us if we allow ourselves to become disengaged.”
Two schools will begin the year virtual. Due to a number of staff members having to quarantine, North Clayton High School and Pointe South Middle School will be virtual on Monday through Wednesday.
Cobb County Schools is keeping similar health protocols to last school year. That includes the mask policy.
Face coverings will be optional for students and staff in school buildings, on school buses, and at extracurricular activities.
“CCSD’s 2021-2022 Public Health Protocols are based on the same priorities which successfully navigated us throughout last year and provide guidance for face coverings, social distancing, cleaning, isolation, quarantines, communication, and school clinics,” the district said on its back-to-school page.
Social distancing in classrooms and school buildings will be enforced when appropriate and feasible. Any student or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 will be required to isolate in accordance with the CDC & DPH guidelines.
The district said any updates to protocols will be posted on its COVID-19 page.
DeKalb County is one of at least seven districts that will require masks in school buildings.
DeKalb Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Watson-Harris said they have been following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other committees.
“Some people aren’t thrilled about that and others are concerned and have a different opinion. But for us, we want to keep the main thing the main thing,” she told Channel 2′s Lori Wilson. “And for us that means getting as many children back into the classroom, and making sure that our teachers and our staff members feel safe and comfortable.”
Mask will also be required for all indoor clubs and after-school meetings. Masks are optional for activities held outside, including athletic events. However, masks will be required in locker and weight rooms.
Fayette County Schools published its back-to-school protocols on July 23. Masks will be optional but highly recommended for unvaccinated people. Seating charts will be implemented in the classrooms for contact tracing.
Quarantined students will participate in concurrent learning. Georgia Department of Public Health guidelines will be followed for students and staff.
The school district will allow playgrounds to be open but field trips are subject to approval.
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Greene County Schools officials say they planned for the school year to return as close to normal as possible. The school district says masks will be optional in school buildings and on buses.
“Good handwashing and hand-sanitizing habits will continue to be encouraged,” the district said. “Students should stay home if they are sick. Parents, if your child shows signs of COVID-19 or any other illness, do not send them to school.”
GCSS COVID-19 procedures are subject to change at any time due to local COVID-19 conditions.
The Newton County School System does not currently have a mask mandate, but does recommend the wearing of a mask. Vaccinations are not required but encouraged.
The school district says it will maximize space between seating and desks and maintain a minimum of 3 feet between students where possible in the classroom. Common spaces, including the cafeteria, will have a minimum social distancing of 6 feet.
Schools and other facilities will be cleaned daily and high touch surfaces sanitized multiple times throughout the day. Water fountains will be turned off. Students may bring water from home or use bottle filling stations, which have been installed in all schools.
The Paulding County School District anticipates a return to normal during the school year. Paulding County will continue to offer virtual learning for all K-12 students. As of July 27, the district reports more than 1,800 students are currently enrolled virtually.
The district put together a four-color code for back to school practices: resilient (green), preventive (yellow), enhanced mitigation (orange) and temporary closure (red).
Paulding County says it will start the school year under the yellow preventive tier. That means masks are optional and the schools will continue to provide masks to people who request them.
COVID-19 vaccinations are not required for students, staff, or visitors. While vaccinations are encouraged, the district says it recognizes that the decision is a personal choice.
Pickens County School District says masks are recommended, but not mandated, for all individuals regardless of vaccination status.
Students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 will follow DPH guidelines that require them to stay home for 10 days since symptoms first appeared and be fever-free for 24 hours before returning to school.
The district says it will conduct contact-tracing themselves and have DPH reach out to families who need to be contacted.
“We feel that this will be the least disruptive way to conduct contact-tracing in our schools. We fully understand the hardship quarantining students places on our families,” the school said in a letter to parents.