Opinion: Parents may be on their own negotiating COVID this school year

Schools in many Georgia districts resume next week with less stringent rules related to COVID-19.

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Schools in many Georgia districts resume next week with less stringent rules related to COVID-19.

With classes due to resume next week in many Georgia school districts, parents may find it’s up to them to figure out COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Districts aren’t ignoring the pandemic altogether, but are trying to begin this new school year as normally as possible with back-to-school events and open houses.

For starters, schools can’t require students to wear masks. The governor and General Assembly made sure of that with the Unmask Georgia Students Act, which gave parents control over whether their kids mask up in school.

In endorsing the law, Gov. Brian Kemp said, “... it is past time for a return to normal and for decisions regarding protection against the virus to be made by individual Georgians and their families — not the government.”

Not all districts have published protocols yet on whether or how they will alert parents to a COVID-19 case in their child’s classroom. And even those districts that have a notification plan in place may not know whether it’s COVID-19 or a cold keeping a student home from school. Parents might not test their sick kids for the virus or inform the school of a positive result from a home test, despite polices like that of Fulton County Schools. Fulton’s policy states, “Staff and students are to report positive COVID-19 test results through their respective COVID portals.” Fulton plans to notify students or classes with direct COVID-19 exposure.

Schools can still require staff to wear masks, as Clayton County Schools and Gwinnett County Public Schools have done in response to climbing infection rates. Clayton and Gwinnett are not alone in seeing more COVID-19 in their communities.

According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data tracker update, “COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations are on the rise, driving COVID-19 Community Levels up to medium or high in 75% of counties. Omicron BA.5 is the predominant variant, causing an estimated 78% of cases. BA.5 has fueled the rapid rise in cases since June, suggesting that it spreads more easily than previous Omicron lineages.”

We’re in a challenging place as parents want their kids to experience a normal school year without masking, social distancing or limits on athletics and other extracurriculars. However, that insistence on a return to a pre-COVID-19 world could increase transmission rates and lead to more teacher and student absences.

When I asked parents on the AJC Get Schooled Facebook page about their district’s policies and plans, many said they had received no information yet on COVID-19.

“It’s every family for themselves,” said one. “It’s pretty evident by now that we’re all on our own,” said another.