Gwinnett school district reimposes mask mandate amid new CDC guidance

August 26, 2020 Lawrenceville - Students wearing masks arrive to Jackson Elementary School for the first day of school amid the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Hyosub Shin /



August 26, 2020 Lawrenceville - Students wearing masks arrive to Jackson Elementary School for the first day of school amid the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Hyosub Shin /

Georgia’s largest school district announced Tuesday that it’s requiring masks for students, staff, and visitors to all district facilities and on buses, regardless of vaccination status.

Gwinnett County school officials said the decision was made in response to new guidance the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued Tuesday, which called for the wearing of masks in schools.

“The facts and recommendations are clear,” Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said in a news release. “Masks do make a difference and we must do all we can to keep students in school, in person.”

Elementary students and the youngest middle school students are not eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 because no vaccinations have been approved for children under 12. The school district also said many students and employees eligible to be vaccinated are not.

Besides Gwinnett, school districts across the metro area requiring masks are Atlanta Public Schools, Clayton County and DeKalb County. Masks remain optional in Cobb County and Marietta City schools.

A Fulton County spokesperson said Tuesday: “As with all updates from public health, state and federal officials, Fulton County Schools’ COVID-19 Executive Task Force will review the new information, confer with leadership, and then notify our community if changes are warranted. We are currently engaged in that process and will provide an update, if necessary, as soon as possible.”

Gwinnett’s protocols

The Gwinnett district expects an estimated 180,000 students to begin the school year on Aug. 4.

In light of the new rules, the Gwinnett district will allow families to change from digital to in-person learning for next school year, or vice versa, through Monday. Families should contact their schools to make changes.

“We realize this does not allow families a lot of time to make this decision, but we must have this information by this date to ensure schools are staffed appropriately to serve students and student schedules are finalized prior to the start of school,” Wilbanks said in a news release.

Students who are identified as close contacts to a student who is positive for COVID-19 in the classroom will not have to quarantine if both students are wearing masks, according to the school district.

Students will be allowed to take off masks at lunch, outside and at certain points during band and physical education classes. Schools will schedule other mask breaks throughout the day. The district said accommodations will be made for those unable to wear masks for documented medical reasons, such as asthma or sensory issues.

The school district and the Gwinnett, Newton & Rockdale County Health Departments will host a weekly vaccination clinic on Wednesdays through the end of August from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Discovery High School.

“It is time for us to mask up and take advantage of vaccination opportunities to help our community get past the pandemic,” Wilbanks said.

Parents raised an outcry over the district’s mask mandate in the spring, culminating in a 40-minute disruption during the May school board meeting when about 100 people refused to wear masks or leave.

The school district dropped the mandate in June as COVID-19 cases declined, saying instead that masks were “strongly recommended.” The positivity rate in Gwinnett County has recently increased, reaching 6.1% for the two weeks ending Tuesday, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Staff writer Vanessa McCray contributed to this report.