Buford schools end bus mask mandate; federal order remains in place

Enforcement of CDC order doesn’t fall to state

Buford City Schools stopped making students wear masks on district buses Monday.

But a federal order for universal masking on public transportation, including school buses, remains in place.

The district of 1,500 students recently posted a message on its website that says officials made the decision after a comprehensive review of pandemic protocols and in the context of plummeting case counts.

“Undoubtedly we are on the backside of the most recent surge in COVID-19 cases in our county and state,” the announcement says. Masks will now be optional but “strongly encouraged” on school buses in Buford.

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Since the start of the school year in August, the district has recorded nearly 600 COVID-19 cases. Its highest count — 102 cases — was recorded the first week of September. Last week, it recorded three cases.

The district leadership made the decision amid a standing order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requiring masks on school buses. Much of the CDC’s guidance is not binding. The agency leaves it to states to decide whether to implement their own orders based on its scientists’ recommendations.

However, the CDC’s public transportation masking order, issued in January 2021, is enforced by federal authorities.

“Passengers and drivers must wear a mask on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private school systems, regardless of vaccination status, subject to the exclusions and exemptions in CDC’s Order,” the agency’s website says. The site also says the agency will exercise “enforcement discretion,” noting certain exemptions, such as on “conveyances” with outdoor areas and for people with certain disabilities.

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The media office for the CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment about what could happen to schools that do not follow the order. The Georgia Department of Public Health has no jurisdiction to enforce it, a spokeswoman said. The department hasn’t told schools not to follow the federal order, she said.

A spokeswoman for the Buford schools said the district was following several other systems in the region, including Forsyth County. A spokeswoman for Forsyth County Schools confirmed that masks are not required on district buses.

Buford is an independent city system in Gwinnett County.

Gwinnett County Public Schools, the state’s largest district, has mandated masks since the start of the school year. Masks are required in buildings when COVID-19 transmission is “high” or “substantial.”

“Masks are required on buses in compliance with federal mandates,” Sloan Roach, the district’s spokeswoman, said in an email.