Group of Fulton parents, students and teachers demanding masks be made mandatory

Group of Fulton parents, students and teachers demand mandatory masks in classrooms

NORTH FULTON, Ga. — Fulton County’s school superintendent said Tuesday he’s not yet prepared to decide whether to start the year off with virtual remote school or to mandate masks in the classroom should kids go back to class.

Dr. Mike Looney made the comments during a sometimes heated school board meeting at which several parents, students and teacher advocates raised concerns about the safety of returning to the classroom as COVID-19 numbers spike in Fulton County.

“I’m prepared to go to universal remote if that’s necessary,” Looney said.  “I’m prepared to mandate masks if that’s necessary.  But, on July 14, a month before school, I’m not prepared to make that directive at this time.”

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Looney reiterated that his final decision would be dictated by data and not by “politics” or any outside influences.

“I want to get this right,” he said.  “I have consistently said that our return to school is dependent on the level of community spread that our community provides us.”

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Outside the meeting, about two dozen students, parents and teachers gathered with signs to protest the district’s position on masks in class and on school buses.

“Teachers Matter,” some chanted.

Incoming freshman Camille Block told Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik she feels strongly about requiring masks at school.

“In order to make the schools the safest places they can possibly be, we need masks in schools. We need to be protecting the students and the teachers,” said Block.  “I think they should take the hint from other counties who have already started start printing logo face masks or include masks in their back to school plan.”

Looney said the district has ordered two, reusable and washable masks for every student, but at this point, the district is only “expecting” and “strongly encouraging” mask wearing for the students.

Other districts, including Gwinnett County Schools and Marietta City Schools, have mandated masks for students in class.

“It still puts us all at risk,” a middle school teacher who asked Petchenik not to identify him, said of a lack of mask mandate.  “I do feel like we are going to be put in a Petri dish and say, let’s see if this works.”

During Tuesday’s board meeting, board member Katha Stuart told her colleagues she may have been exposed to COVID-19, was experiencing some symptoms, and stayed home while she awaits a test result.

“We just ask for patience and grace as we move through this very difficult time for all of us,” she said in a phone call.

School officials also announced that so far, 8500 students had signed up for the district’s individual remote learning option, and that they expect about 10,000 students to sign up. 

The district also extended the signup deadline 5 extra days to Wednesday, July 22 at 5 p.m.