Metro Atlanta school leaders are sticking with their current mask policies, despite new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that allows individuals vaccinated against COVID-19 to forego face coverings in school buildings.

The Clayton County district will still require students and staff to wear masks when classes resume in August. Those in Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett have the option to don face coverings, while Atlanta Public Schools and DeKalb County are reviewing the new guidance, the districts said Friday. Presently, APS requires masks inside buildings.

“We are not changing it as of right now,” Clayton County Schools spokesman Ronald Shields said Friday. “Obviously something could change later, but we’re not relaxing our mandate right now.”

The CDC announcement came as the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Georgia is inching upward, particularly in areas with low vaccination rates, state data shows. Health officials are particularly worried about the highly contagious delta variant, which was first detected in Georgia in May.

Across the state, the vaccine is eligible for individuals age 12 and older. Pfizer and Moderna both say they are testing coronavirus vaccines in children under age 12, and hope to have results in the fall.

In Georgia, only 37% of the state’s total population — which includes children under 12 not yet eligible to get the vaccine ― has been fully vaccinated, compared to 47.6% of the population nationwide, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Brian Noyes, a spokesman for Fulton County Schools, which made masks optional beginning last month, said the district’s executive task force would probably review the CDC’s new guidelines soon. One of the biggest issues, he said, may be deciding how the new guidance will impact the staff of elementary students.

“Certain kids aren’t even of the age where they can get vaccinations,” he said. “That’s a question we’ll review and talk about. But I don’t know if that will change anything.”

Billy Cahill (far right) hands a woman his "unmask our kids" sign to pose for a photo outside of the Cobb County School District office on May 20, 2021, in Marietta, Georgia . Many community members waited in line to speak at the school board meeting to voice their support for unmasking.  CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Christina Matacotta

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Credit: Christina Matacotta

In metro Atlanta, school systems began announcing changes to their mask policies in May as the school year ended. Many districts faced intense pressure from some residents to do away with masks altogether or be given more choice for the 2021-2022 school year.

In April, six Cobb parents filed a lawsuit against the north metro Atlanta school system over its mask mandate, arguing that such policies do not stop the spread of the coronavirus. The litigation was dropped in May after after Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order prohibiting public schools from imposing mask mandates.

In June, the Gwinnett Board of Education increased security at its meetings after members of the public became unruly over masks. That came after many people who refused to don them at a May meeting although it was board policy.

Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale announced in June that masks would be optional for students and staff during any school-related activity over the summer and next academic year. That policy remains the same and anyone who wishes to keep wearing a mask should feel free to do so, a school district spokeswoman said Friday.

The policy was enacted based on significant decreases in COVID-19 transmission rates in Cobb County, the spokeswoman said.

Gwinnett County Public Schools, the state’s largest district, also made masks optional in all facilities in June. Sloan Roach, the district’s spokeswoman, said the school system “will continue to review guidance from health partners, the CDC, and the state, using it to inform decision-making about additional or updated mitigation strategies that might be needed for the 2021–22 school year.”

The school district plans to continue to “strongly recommend” masks next school year and remind students and staff of proper mask use, Roach said. In addition, Gwinnett will promote vaccination and social distancing when feasible.

Staff writers Johnny Edwards, Helena Oliviero and Scott Trubey contributed to this story.

School districts’ mask policy

Metro Atlanta districts have different policies on masks. Here’s who is mandating masks and who’s making face coverings optional at this time. Policies may change before the new school year begins.

Atlanta: mandated

Clayton: mandated

Cobb: optional

DeKalb: optional

Fulton: optional

Gwinnett: optional



The new schools guidance says:

— No one at schools needs to wear masks at recess or in most other outdoor situations. However, unvaccinated people are advised to wear masks if they are in a crowd for an extended period of time, like in the stands at a football game.

— Ventilation and handwashing continue to be important. Students and staff also should stay home when they are sick.

— Testing remains an important way to prevent outbreaks. But the CDC also says people who are fully vaccinated do not need to participate in such screening.

— Separating students into smaller groups, or cohorts, continues to be a good way to help reduce spread of the virus. But the CDC discouraged putting vaccinated and unvaccinated kids in separate groups, saying schools shouldn’t stigmatize any group or perpetuate academic, racial or other tracking.