Richmond County schools making masks mandatory for all grade levels

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 11:29 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Big news out of Richmond County where we’re learning masks will be required for everyone this year in all grades. Out of the three main districts in our area, Richmond County is the only district making masks mandatory at school.

The decision, announced Thursday afternoon, comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated guidance for K-12 schools issued Tuesday.

Experts at the CDC urged the use of masks in school, regardless of vaccination status, as the super-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has COVID-19 cases rising across the country.

As you can probably imagine, parents have mixed feelings about the last-minute change a week before the start of classes.

We’ve all gotten pretty comfortable with Zoom, online learning and masks. But for Maria Rogers, whose daughter is about to start her first year of high school, she was hoping none of these things would be a part of this school year.

“I was hoping they wouldn’t require the face masks again because they’re so uncomfortable, but I understand if they say they need them it’s because they do because they can see what’s happening throughout the country and what’s happening here in Augusta too,” said Rogers.

Understanding, that’s what the school district is hoping for.

“For us to bring all our students in and to do it safely is our priority and that’s why we’ve made this decision,” said Lynthia Ross, Richmond County School System chief public information officer.

The rise in positive cases in our area, low vaccination rate, and the 17,351 students under the age of 12 unable to get the vaccine are the main reasons masks are back. Masks can come off during lunch, outside on the playground, and during mask breaks but all staff, students and visitors have to wear masks vaccinated or not.

“We should see fewer incidents of our teachers or our students even having to quarantine by taking this simple step,” said Ross.

But masks or no masks, Maria is just happy to see her daughter start freshman year in person after a year of struggling through virtual learning.

“My daughter was home for the whole past year. She needs other people to talk to. So I am looking forward for her to go back to school to see her friends, see her teachers, to talk to other people,” said Rogers.

And if it has to be muffled conversation, it’s better than talking to a screen.

And Richmond County school officials say they will continue to monitor the cases in our area and make changes accordingly, they say the goal is to try to prevent another remote learning year and keep everyone safe.

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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