Atlanta students could be required to wear face masks

Atlanta Public Schools students should prepare to put one more item on their back-to-school shopping list.

Paper? Check. Pencils? Check. Now add a mask.

The board's policy committee on Thursday recommended changing the dress code to allow the district to require that students wear personal protective equipment, such as face coverings and masks.

Officials expressed support for mandating masks if schools reopen for in-person instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic. Principals should be permitted to consider exceptions on a case-by-case basis, several said.

“We are talking with parents and communicating to them the idea that the mask is a part of the school uniform. It’s an item they should add to their school supply list,” said Erica Long, an APS administrator who works on policy matters and governmental affairs. “It’s a safety and hygiene issue. So, just as we couldn’t allow anyone in the building without a shirt or without pants, it’s going to be the same thing with face coverings.”

The district is considering three reopening scenarios: All-virtual instruction, in-person lessons or a combination of the two. Officials plan to announce by mid-July what school will look like on Aug. 10, the first day of classes.

The board plans to vote on the dress code change at its August meeting. The district is purchasing disposable masks for students who do not have access to them, but officials encouraged students to bring their own.

Staff must wear masks.

A move to require masks would make APS among the more strict school districts when it comes to protective gear. The Georgia Department of Education recommended schools allow face masks but did not mandate them.

In a video this week, Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley urged parents to send students to school with masks and said schools also would have a supply to hand out.

“We’re not telling them they have to wear them, but remember the purpose of the mask is to protect others as well as yourself,” he said.

Cobb County School District and Marietta City Schools also will encourage but not require students to wear masks.

Fulton County Schools officials have not made a decision yet. The board is expected to discuss recommendations at a Monday meeting.

Atlanta school board Chairman Jason Esteves acknowledged that some parents may disagree with the district’s proposed mask requirement. Some worry that wearing masks will be traumatic or make kids anxious. They question how teachers will enforce a rule, especially for little ones who constantly remove masks.

“I want to make sure we reinforce the fact that it’s not meant and it will not be used as a punitive thing,” Esteves said. “We should try our best and do what we can to encourage it. But I would hate to see or to hear (of) kids being kicked out of school, particularly young ones, because they’re not bringing or wearing face masks.”

Reporter Kristal Dixon contributed to this article.