DeKalb schools reimposes mask mandate for students, staff

03/09/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — John R. Lewis Elementary School music teacher Elena Prestwood welcomes a student wearing a face shield and a face mask into the school building on the first day of in-person learning at the school in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 9, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
03/09/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — John R. Lewis Elementary School music teacher Elena Prestwood welcomes a student wearing a face shield and a face mask into the school building on the first day of in-person learning at the school in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 9, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Board of education members debated the change

DeKalb County schools is making masks mandatory once again for students and staff while indoors and on buses, regardless of vaccination status.

The change is an about-face to its announcement last month that masks would be optional. It also comes days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance that allows individuals vaccinated against COVID-19 to forego face coverings in school buildings.

The district also said it will review ways to identify people who have been vaccinated and “re-evaluate optional mask wearing,” according to the new policy, which was posted late Monday. Masks will remain optional for outdoor activities, including sporting events.

School mask policies vary across the metro Atlanta area. The Clayton County district said last week that it will still require students and staff to wear masks when classes begin in August. Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett students and staff have the option to don face coverings, while Atlanta Public Schools said it was reviewing the new CDC guidance. Presently, APS requires masks inside buildings.

ExploreMetro Atlanta schools mask policies vary, despite new CDC guidance

During a school board meeting Monday, a DeKalb district official said that wearing masks “would be in the best interest” of everyone when classes begin Aug. 2. That’s due a rise in coronavirus cases in Georgia, the highly contagious delta variant and because children under age 12 are not eligible for vaccines.

“Just for safety reasons, it would afford all of us to do due diligence to keep everyone safe coming back into the (learning) environment,” said Deborah Moore-Sanders, interim deputy superintendent for student support and intervention.

Board member Marshall Orson pushed back and said the district’s policy is not consistent with the CDC guidance.

ExploreDeKalb schools relax indoor mask rules for students, staff

Orson said it “puts us in a really difficult position of saying we’re driven by the science and data and the medical advice and then deciding we’re not going to be driven by the science and data … when it’s clearly been articulated.”

Joyce Morley, another DeKalb board member, said she’s glad to see the district recommend wearing masks since Georgia is among the lowest-ranking states with fully-vaccinated residents.

As of last week, only 37% of the state’s total population — which includes children under 12 not yet eligible to get the vaccine ― had been fully vaccinated.

“I think we have to look at what is in the best interest of the children and the best interest of the educators,” Morley said.