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With Richmond County schools requiring masks, some parents choosing to keep children home

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 6:36 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Masks will be required in Richmond County schools this year.

The Richmond County School System made that announcement Thursday, saying masks will be required for all K-12 students, staff, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. That goes for inside schools and on the school bus. The news comes just one week ahead of the first day of school.

Things are staying pretty much the same as last year with these new guidelines. Schools will still reopen for in-person learning for all students. If you are exposed to COVID you will not have to quarantine as long as both people were wearing masks. Students can take their masks off at lunch still. With all these sudden changes school systems are working to make sure they’re prepared for anything.

Many parents thought they wouldn’t have to make this decision again. Whether to send your kids to school or keep them at home.

“My goodness. ... I mean it’s just so tough,” said Kimba Henriques.

Henriques has three kids in the Richmond County School System. She says she’s keeping her kids home with COVID cases increasing.

“I’m just frightened for their health,” said Henriques. “Hopefully in a year everything will be leveled out. But for now, I don’t feel comfortable with it.”

We made a chart with data from DPH’s website. It shows COVID cases in Richmond and Columbia County over the last two weeks. Cases are increasing but they aren’t nearly as bad as they were in September of last year. It’s also not affecting the age groups for most kids in our school system.

“A lot of kids suffered for going to virtual school. Kids were failing out of school because the system was not designed for it,” said Henriques.

In Richmond County not having enough teachers and substitutes was why schools were closing. Now they’re hoping vaccines will reduce that problem. In Columbia County, they’re working to provide more training for staff to help sanitize and know the signs of COVID. They also updated their safety plan which they upgraded from last year.

Henriques says she understands the reality that most parents won’t and can’t keep their kids home.

“For a lot of parents, this is completely new territory and they’re not comfortable making those financial sacrifices. They cant afford to. They can’t afford to make those sacrifices to keep their kids home,” she said.

Richmond County School System officials say they will continue to monitor the community throughout the year and update plans with recommendations from the CDC and DPH.

The school district said the decision was made “with the safety of its nearly 30,000 students and 4,000 employees as a priority” and in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Public Health and in light of COVID-19 conditions in Richmond County. Those conditions include positive case data, vaccine eligibility and vaccination rates.

The change will take effect Aug. 2, when masks will be required for all students, staff and visitors to all Richmond County School System facilities and on school buses, regardless of vaccination status.

The move will come ahead of students’ return to the classroom. Elementary students will start school Aug. 5, while students attending K-8, middle and high schools will start Aug. 9.

However, open houses are scheduled for Aug. 2.

Other stipulations

  • According to CDC and DPH guidance, students or staff identified as close contacts to a positive case for COVID-19 will not have to quarantine if both are properly wearing masks in the school setting.
  • Students will be permitted to remove masks during lunch and while outside (on the playground, mask breaks, etc.).
  • Accommodations will be made for students and employees unable to wear a mask for documented medical reasons.
  • As COVID-19 conditions in our community change and guidance from the CDC and DPH is updated, the Richmond County School System will update COVID-19 mitigation plans throughout the 2021–22 school year.

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