An announcement on the Gwinnett County Public Schools website posted Tuesday indicates a change in the mask policy for back to school — the school system will require students, staff and visitors in all facilities to wear face masks, regardless of vaccination status.

The school system states the change has been made in responses to the latest guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This decision takes into account current conditions, the rise in COVID-19 case rates in Gwinnett County, and the ineligibility of children age 12 and younger for the vaccine,” the statement reads.

Students will also be required to wear masks on school buses.

“The facts and recommendations are clear … masks do make a difference and we must do all we can to keep students in school, in person,” retiring Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said in the announcement.

In light of the change to mask requirements, GCPS will allow families to alter their children’s instructional preferences from in-person to digital through Monday, Aug. 2. Parents should contact their child’s school to make a change.

“We realize this does not allow families a lot of time to make this decision,” Wilbanks said, “but we must have this information by this date to ensure schools are staffed appropriately to serve students and student schedules are finalized prior to the start of school.”

Steve Gasper, who started the group Supporting GCPS In-person Learning, said he wasn’t surprised by the school system’s decision.

“We pretty much saw it coming, knowing that the superintendent was very clear in the past saying he follows the CDC guidelines to the T,” Gasper said, “so we knew it was coming. It’s unfortunate that we’re here.”

Gasper, who has two school-age children who were enrolled in private school this past year, said some parents may choose to revert back to digital learning and some may withdraw their students from GCPL.

“Others will comply,” he said. “Even more others may feel the need to protest this decision.”

Some exceptions to the mask requirement will be made. According to the announcement, students will be permitted to take off their masks during lunch, while they are outside and during specified breaks. Accommodations will be made for students and employees unable to wear a mask for documented medical reasons, such as a pulmonary condition like asthma or sensory issues.

“A layered approach is needed to keep our students safe and in school,” Wilbanks said in the announcement. “Masks are one of the tools proven to be effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. It is time for us to mask up and take advantage of vaccination opportunities to help our community get past the pandemic.”

GCPS’ official first day of school is Wednesday, Aug. 4, however, in-person start dates will be staggered, with in-person students beginning the school year with digital learning prior to their specific start date.

  • Aug. 4 — Grades K, 1, 6, 9 and students receiving special education services in a small-group setting begin in-person classes
  • Aug. 5 — Grades 2, 3, 7 and 10 begin in-person classes
  • Aug. 9 — Grades 4, 5, 8, 11 and 12 begin in-person classes
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Deanna Allen has served as editor of the North Gwinnett Voice since June 2021. Effective communication and creative design are her passions.

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