Atlanta superintendent says schools should decide COVID safety rules

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring said schools need the flexibility to make decisions about COVID-19 safety measures. (Curtis Compton / AJC file photo)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

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Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring said schools need the flexibility to make decisions about COVID-19 safety measures. (Curtis Compton / AJC file photo)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

The superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools on Friday voiced concern about any legislation that would prevent districts from implementing COVID-19 safety measures.

Superintendent Lisa Herring made the remarks during a meeting with state representatives and senators who represent the city of Atlanta.

Herring didn’t specifically reference Gov. Brian Kemp, but her comments come two days after he announced that he would push for legislation to let parents decide if their children should wear masks in school.

APS, which enrolls about 50,000 students, has mandated masks since the pandemic’s early days.

“Legislation limiting the ability of school districts and boards to implement COVID mitigation efforts is without question a space of concern,” Herring told members of the Atlanta delegation.

She said APS “has had the flexibility and autonomy to make critical decisions in partnership with health officials.” She said it’s necessary that those decisions continue to be made at a local level.

ExploreKemp to urge legislation to leave school mask decisions to parents

On Wednesday, Kemp used his Twitter account to blast school systems that he said “continue to ignore the science, concerned parents, and the wellbeing of students.”

He said his office would introduce legislation in the coming days “to give parents the final say on masking for their children.”

In January, Kemp and the Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner sent a letter to school leaders announcing a reduction in contact-tracing requirements and a loosening of quarantine protocols.

APS officials have said they will make masks optional when community transmission levels in Fulton and DeKalb counties fall into the “moderate” range for two straight weeks. That means the number of new cases must be below 50 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period.

As of Monday, the number was 285 in Fulton County and 279 in DeKalb County, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

ExploreAtlanta Public Schools hopes to relax mask rules after winter break

Juliana Prieto, the APS epidemiologist, told board members this week that while transmission levels remain high, they are dropping from the omicron surge in January.

“APS will continue to monitor COVID-19 community transmission levels on a weekly basis and will adjust masking protocols as necessary,” she said. “We will also continue with our other mitigation strategies such as surveillance testing and encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations.”

This academic year, the district has recorded more than 4,500 COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

ExploreThe latest on how coronavirus is affecting Georgia schools

Several parents asked APS officials at Monday’s meeting to lift the mask mandate.

Stacie Morrison, mother of a first grade student, said other districts “have successfully been open all year long” without requiring masks. Her son and his teacher have trouble hearing each other because they’re both wearing masks, she said.

“He has spent every single day of his educational experience either in virtual school or wearing a mask. Every single day. He has not had one day of normalcy since starting school,” she told the board.

ExploreComplete coverage of COVID-19 in Georgia


BY THE NUMBERS

Down 73%: Change in newly reported cases in Georgia, from 19,657 on Jan 10 to 5,283 on Feb. 10

Down 23%: Hospitalizations, down from 4,633 on Jan. 10 to 3,576 on Feb. 10

Up 244%: Deaths, up from 29 on Jan. 7 to 100 on Feb. 9

All numbers are rolling 7-day averages. Numbers for newly reported coronavirus cases are both confirmed and probable cases. Source: Georgia Department of Public Health.