Masks to be optional in all Fulton County schools starting Monday

Fulton County Schools initially planned to make masks optional this school year, but instead required face coverings based on the number of COVID-19 cases in a local area. The district began relaxing the rules in many schools this week. Curtis Compton/AJC FILE PHOTO
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Fulton County Schools initially planned to make masks optional this school year, but instead required face coverings based on the number of COVID-19 cases in a local area. The district began relaxing the rules in many schools this week. Curtis Compton/AJC FILE PHOTO

But masks will still be required on buses

Masks will no longer be required in any Fulton County school or office starting Monday, as campus COVID-19 cases continue to drop.

The number of cases reported by Fulton County Schools fell this week for the ninth consecutive week. The district logged just 29 cases among students and staff for Oct. 22-28.

Each of Fulton’s more than 100 schools now have low enough counts to meet the district’s recently changed guidelines for when masks are required and when they’re not. Masks must still be worn on buses, but they will be recommended and not required inside schools.

District spokesman Brian Noyes said Friday that principals are notifying families of the change.

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Fulton County Schools didn’t plan to require masks this year, but officials mandated them as COVID-19 cases surged during the back-to-school season.

By the first week of classes in August, face coverings were required in all schools based on the high rate of infection throughout the district. Officials said they would lift a school’s mask mandate once the COVID-19 rate in the city where the school was located fell below 100 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period.

Earlier this week, three cities reached that threshold. As of Wednesday, masks became optional in 35 schools in the cities of Alpharetta, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.

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District officials recently changed the way they determine whether or not masks are required. Instead of relying on city-level data, they’re now also using school-level numbers. Under the new metric, Superintendent Mike Looney can waive the mask requirements at schools where the ratio of positive COVID-19 cases is less than 1% of student enrollment.

The district on Friday updated the positive case rates for each school. Many schools had zero cases, and no schools topped the 1% mark.

This marks the district’s lowest count since classes began in August. The highest level of cases came the week ending Aug. 26, with 892 cases.

The district will continue to monitor city and school case numbers in the coming weeks, and could require masks again if there’s a surge in a specific school, class or grade level.

But Fulton intends to do away with mandates entirely once its youngest students have a chance to be vaccinated.

A week ago, Looney announced that mask rules will be lifted in all buildings 30 days after children ages 5-11 become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Debate has raged over whether masks should be required in the state’s fourth-largest school system.

In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended masks be worn in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

In September, 11 Fulton families sued the school board, seeking to overturn the district’s mandate. The school system successfully defended the mask rule during an initial court hearing, but the group of parents plan to appeal.