Atlanta pushes back first day of school, approves mask mandate

Atlanta Public Schools will postpone the first day of class until Aug. 24, two weeks later than the district initially planned.

The school board on Monday voted unanimously to give final approval to the delayed start, which officials said would give teachers and families more time to prepare for virtual instruction. The district previously announced it would hold online-only lessons for at least the first nine weeks of the year, or until there is minimal or moderate spread of the coronavirus.

The board also approved a dress code change which would allow the district to require students to wear masks when they are in school buildings.

While APS plans fully online classes at first, some students may enter buildings in small numbers for limited in-person activities, such as taking academic assessments.

“Face coverings are required for all students and staff except while eating, drinking and exercising, with limited exceptions for students or staff who have medical reasons for not being able to wear a mask or face shield,” a district document states.

Superintendent Lisa Herring told the board that delaying the start of school will reduce the number of instructional days from 180 to 170. The calendar change also will move the final day of the first semester to Jan. 15.

Herring said that the district will continue to make decisions based on the health and wellness of students and employees.

“Virtual is not a bad, seven-letter word. Just because we will be amid virtual learning does not mean that quality teaching and learning will be absent. In fact it will be the forefront in everything we do,” she said. “We expect to have a successful school year, and we will work to ensure just that.”