Georgia State faculty latest to protest for stronger COVID-19 safety protocols

Georgia State University professor Wendy Simonds (R), along with faculty and staff, protest for stronger COVID-19 safety protocols  Monday, August 30, 2021.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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Georgia State University professor Wendy Simonds (R), along with faculty and staff, protest for stronger COVID-19 safety protocols Monday, August 30, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

About two dozen Georgia State University educators and students held a rare demonstration on its Atlanta campus Monday to demand a mask mandate to limit the spread of COVID-19

The protest came just days after a staffer was fired after refusing to teach in person unless students are required to wear masks.

Chanting “Stop the spread!,” the demonstrators asked Georgia State officials to break with the University System of Georgia and the state’s Board of Regents, which have strongly recommended, but have not required students wear masks or face coverings.

“It doesn’t make sense to not mandate masks or vaccines and take other measures to keep people safe,” said Wendy Simonds, a sociology and gerontology professor at the university for more than 25 years.

Simonds and several speakers said the mandate is needed, noting many Georgia State students have children who are too young to get vaccinated or care for immunocompromised people whose health is at greater risk if they contract COVID-19.

Pre-med student Ashton Hanson came to the demonstration with a notebook full of research she said showed the effectiveness of vaccines and masks.

“You are not only harming yourself, but you are harming the people around you,” Hanson, 19, said of students who don’t want to be vaccinated or wear a mask.

The demonstration was held outside the university’s Student Center East as the school’s new president, M. Brian Blake, held a listening session inside with several dozen students and employees. Blake, addressing an audience question about safety protocols, said the University System’s policy is clear and stressed efforts by the school to encourage students to wear masks.

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Georgia State University President Brian Blake fields questions during an on-campus meeting Monday, August 30, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Georgia State University President Brian Blake fields questions during an on-campus meeting Monday, August 30, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia State University President Brian Blake fields questions during an on-campus meeting Monday, August 30, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

At the same time Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp reiterated his position that he does not believe in a mask or vaccine mandate on college campuses.

“I personally believe that mandates like that are only going to cause division … It’s just causing division. It’s causing people’s blood pressure to go up,” Kemp told reporters at the state Capitol. “We need to continue to educate and advocate for people to get the vaccine.”

Several thousand University System educators and students have signed petitions pushing for mandates. University of Georgia professor Joseph Fu has required students wear masks in his two calculus classes since the fall semester began a couple of weeks ago. He received a letter from the university dated Friday saying he doesn’t have the authority to issue such a mandate and faces disciplinary action if he continues his stance. Fu continued to have students wear masks while teaching in person Monday. He said no students complained about his rules Monday and he’ll continue his requirement.

Georgia State staffer Cody Mullins Luedtke was fired by the university after refusing to teach without masks in her classes. Several demonstrators asked the university to rehire her Monday. The university has a remote work policy, but officials said Luedtke was not eligible for the policy and terminated for refusal to work.

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Georgia State University students, along with faculty and staff, protest for stronger COVID-19 safety protocols Monday, August 30, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Georgia State University students, along with faculty and staff, protest for stronger COVID-19 safety protocols  Monday, August 30, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia State University students, along with faculty and staff, protest for stronger COVID-19 safety protocols Monday, August 30, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Georgia State last year had nearly 54,000 students, the highest enrollment of any school in the state. The number of positive COVID-19 cases reported oline by the university more than tripled from 11 between Aug. 7-13, to 39 between Aug. 14-20, the most recent week available. Positive cases, many self-reported, are much higher at other Georgia universities. Georgia State began its fall semester Aug. 23.

The demonstrators said they plan to hold another protest at the Board of Regents meeting next week.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.