City Schools of Decatur planning to require masks, offer modified quarantine optionsDr. Maggie Fehrman. Photo by Dean Hesse
Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur Superintendent Maggie Fehrman hosted a town hall on Thursday, July 8, along with some staff members and members of a parent advisory group. The panel provided parents and other stakeholders with an update on the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan for the upcoming school year. The main points of discussion during the event revolved around masking and quarantine.
City Schools of Decatur, as of July 8, has decided to continue with universal masking for all students and staff at all CSD schools.
“We also believe that wearing masks is essential to help the spread of COVID, to minimize that spread of COVID within our school system. We’ve seen last year we had really good mask compliance with our students,” Fehrman said.
Mandatory masks will continue with a couple of changes. If teachers are taking students outside and cannot remain at least three feet apart then masks are highly recommended, but not required. Fully vaccinated teachers who teach phonics will be able to remove their masks during class so students can see the mouth movements, Fehrman said.
“So that really is the nutshell of our masking mandate is that we really just feel that it is the most appropriate strategy,” Fehrman said. “It’s the least invasive strategy and it’s kind of a no brainer for me. If we can help prevent the spread of COVID by wearing masks, and not just COVID but other airborne diseases, let’s do that, at least for the start of the school year and see how things go.”
As of now, CSD is the only metro-Atlanta school district that plans to require masks, Fehrman said.
Fehrman did note at the meeting that as new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes out the district will review the mitigation plan and make updates as needed.
The CDC released new guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools on Friday, July 9. The CDC is recommending mask use for people who are not fully vaccinated, including students, teachers and staff, while indoors. While outdoors, people generally don’t need to wear a mask but masks are recommended for people who are not fully vaccinated when in areas of substantial to high transmission, according to the guidance.
The guidance also states that based on the needs of the community, school administrators may opt to require masks in schools.
Achieving high levels of COVID-19 vaccination among eligible students, staff and household members is one of the most critical strategies to help schools return to full operations, according to the CDC. Fehrman said at the town hall that making sure eligible students and staff get vaccinated is the number one mitigation strategy for the district. However, CSD is not requiring vaccinations.
When parents do their annual data verification, part of that will include indicating whether or not students are vaccinated. If they are vaccinated, parents will have to upload a copy of the vaccine card. Staff will be asked to do the same thing, Fehrman said.
“They won’t have to share but we will want to know where they are with their vaccine status,” she added.
Shonda Moore, school health coordinator, has reached out to the DeKalb County Board of Health asking for a mobile vaccination unit and hopes to be able to offer that service soon to the CSD community, she said.
City Schools of Decatur is considering a modified quarantine option. If a student is unvaccinated, was deemed to be in close contact with someone at school who had COVID-19, and is asymptomatic, they could continue physically attending school for normal school hours during their quarantine period. The student would have to still wear a mask and follow all of the other mitigation strategies, Fehrman said.
Students could also quarantine at home for the duration of their quarantine period with virtual instruction. Students in quarantine will not be able to participate in afterschool activities and athletics, including afterschool care, for the duration of the quarantine period, according to the mitigation plan.
If students are vaccinated, they do not have to quarantine, Fehrman said.
The district is not changing its isolation policy. If a someone tests positive for COVID-19, they must isolate and stay at home.
“My goal is to minimize disruption,” Fehrman said. “We know that we lost a lot of learning last year, a lot of in-person seat time, a lot of face-to-face time and we need to make sure that this year we minimize any disruption to our students’ learning as much as possible.”
Fehrman also found that many other school districts are also doing a modified quarantine model.
Parents will be notified if their student was considered to be in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The district will also notify all students in a classroom when a COVID positive individual is identified, including how many people were determined to be in close contact and which quarantine options students will be following, according to the mitigation plan.
The CDC has recommended, in general, that people who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should quarantine. Although, individuals are not required to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated and show no symptoms, according to the CDC website.
Other mitigation strategies include physical distancing and the CDC recommendation for schools is three feet between people as opposed to six feet. The district has also made improvements to its ventilation system and has provided a HEPA filter to each classroom. The district has a significant supply of COVID-19 test kits from the Georgia Department of Health. The tests are available to students and staff and will be offered free of charge.
Students will not be tested without parent permission, so if parents want their student to be tested they have to let the district know, Moore said.
Questions have been raised about how the schools will handle lunch. During lunch time, the district is going to strongly encourage students to eat outside and the school principals have been making arrangements and organizing their schools so that they can distance students when they have to take their masks off to eat when inside the schools, Fehrman said.
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