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Decatur School Board considers changes to face mask policy, quarantine options

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Decatur School Board considers changes to face mask policy, quarantine options

Decatur High School, City Schools of Decatur, N McDonough Street.

Decatur, GA — The City Schools of Decatur Superintendent Maggie Fehrman presented some considerations to the COVID-19 mitigation plan related to face masks and quarantine to the School Board at its June 22 work session. 

The current practice for the school district is that all people in all CSD buildings are required to wear a mask. The updated consideration for the fall for masks is that at the high school level, fully vaccinated students and staff have the option to not wear a mask. Masks would be mandated for elementary and middle school students.

“We would recommend continuing mandat[ing] masks in buildings where students have not had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated and this includes asking our teachers to be good models for our students so that they see adults also wearing masks properly,” Fehrman said. 

The outdoor mask policy would also be updated to say that masks are strongly recommended while outside if people can’t practice social distancing, but it is not required. 

Fehrman previously outlined the COVID-19 mitigation strategies at the May 11 School Board meeting and the June 8 board meeting.

Fehrman said that masks can still be mandated in schools. Gov. Brian Kemp updated an executive order recently and initially the perception was that masks cannot be mandated in schools. The order said that a district cannot say that masks are required because of a health emergency, she added. 

“That being said, if we want to mandate masks, we could do that. I do not recommend going against what the CDC is recommending for fully vaccinated people requiring them 100% fully masked,” Fehrman said.

The district is trying to closely align its mitigation plan as much as possible to the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fehrman said. 

Board member James Herndon pointed out the CDC is still recommending universal mask wearing in schools and wondered what guidance Fehrman looked at regarding masks.

The CDC released operational strategies for K-12 schools on May 15 and part of that recommendation says “mask policies for all students, teachers, and staff set the expectation that people will use masks throughout the school,” according to the CDC website.

That guidance has not been updated.

Fehrman said she looked at the CDC’s general policy for masks and the DeKalb County Department of Health, which recommended masking for unvaccinated people in schools.

“The other thing to consider is no other metro districts are requiring masks,” Fehrman said. “If we are going to make a policy within CSD to be outside of the realm of every other metro school district, we have to have a really good reason for that. I can stand behind mandatory masks K-8. Mandating masks in high school takes it to a level that’s way outside of the norm.”

The district is still figuring out how to manage masks at the high school. When students register, parents will have to say whether or not their child is vaccinated. If parents answer no or prefer not to answer, then those students should be wearing a mask, Fehrman said.

“Now policing that is a whole issue,” she added. “We’re going to have to kind of use trust. We’re not going to be the mask police if we’re going to lift masks as an optional requirement at the high school.”

Board member Jana Johnson-Davis was concerned about the Delta variant of COVID-19 and students in the high school transmitting the variant with masks potentially being optional. 

“I feel like we should mandate masks in the upper grades too at least until January to see how this variant virus plays out,” Johnson-Davis said. 

Another change the district is considering is a modified quarantine option. 

The quarantine policy currently states that if someone tests positive for COVID-19 they would go into quarantine. Those in contact with that person would also have to quarantine for a certain number of days even if they tested negative. 

The modified quarantine would give parents an option to commit to their child wearing a mask and if they do so, then the modified quarantine option is available. So if the student wears a mask, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, they would not be required to miss any days of school due to exposure in the school setting only. 

“At the time of notification that an individual is subject to quarantine, the individual or guardian will have the option of selecting routine quarantine or modified quarantine for the duration of their quarantine period,” the agenda packet states.

The modified quarantine option would apply to middle school and below as most of those students cannot be vaccinated. 

“When we look at the data we know that there is very little in-school transmission of COVID-19 because of all the rigorous mitigation strategies so I feel very comfortable recommending that we proceed with a modified quarantine for next year because of that low in-school transmission rate,” Fehrman said. “All students that we had to quarantine, you can see the data there that we didn’t have any in-school transmission.”

Parental commitment seems problematic, board member Lewis Jones said. 

“It seems like we’re extracting a promise to give them this benefit in a way that’s a little bit disconnected from the actual risks associated with exposure in a way that seems to me potentially problematic,” Jones said. 

The thought process behind the commitment is for parents to understand the value of wearing a mask, Fehrman said. 

— In other business, the School Board discussed a few changes to the 2021-2022 school calendar. One change was adding a day off for the observance of Juneteenth. Next year, Juneteenth is on a Sunday so staff would have Monday, June 20, off. 

The district would have to add that day in the calendar, so a work day could be added on June 24. 

— The School Board also adopted the 2021 millage rate at 21 mills, an increase from 20.25 mills in 2020. The increased millage rate results in a 6.79% tax increase. 

“The justification for this increase is based on reductions in revenue and increases in expenses,” said Lonita Broome, executive director of finance. 

The fund balance for the current year has been reduced to state budget cuts and COVID-related expenses, including technology upgrades, expenditures to ensure buildings were sanitized and safe and increases in instructional areas to provide additional resources to students.

The School Board meets again on Tuesday, July 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the board room at the Wilson Center,
125 Electric Avenue. This will be the board’s first in-person meeting since March 2020. A virtual option will still be available.

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