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BCSS: Temporary Mask Requirement Starts Sept. 1

Temporary Mask Requirement for BCSS Starts Sept. 1

The mission of the Barrow County School System is “Ensuring an exceptional education that leads each student to become a high achieving and responsible citizen.”

The collective job of everyone employed by the school system, boiled down to its essence, is to educate the students of Barrow County to the best of our ability given the resources and time we have available.

We cannot do this if our students are not in school.

We are continuously looking for better ways to balance keeping as many of our students and staff safe in face-to-face learning situations without shutting down schools and going virtual. With either option, the Department of Public Health expects us to adhere to their rules to provide the safest environment possible. The absolute last thing we want to see is going back to a total virtual school model.

The entire state of Georgia, including the school system, is still under an administrative order from the Department of Public Health. We are expected to follow the requirements and guidance they provide us and make the best decisions we can based on that guidance coupled with our local data. One of the things we are permitted to do, under certain conditions as a school system, is to allow students not to quarantine if both parties (the infected person and the close contact) are properly masked and over 3 feet away from each other. As we have not required masking for everyone, we have had to quarantine many more students than we would have if everyone had been properly masked. Additionally, we are now permitted to allow students who may have been within the 3-foot distance to quarantine in school while masked and asymptomatic.

*Contact is NOT fully vaccinated or Contact is NOT < 3 months since prior diagnosis with COVID-19

We always endeavor to make decisions that are not based on emotion or politics. Laws and regulations, guidance from medical and legal professionals, coupled with actual relevant data and facts that we have access to are what we use to make decisions. We know that the data regarding what is going on in our schools provide the best insight. This was made abundantly clear last year. We all had high hopes this school year would be one in which we would enjoy a semblance of normalcy after struggling through months of dealing with the impacts of COVID-19. Unfortunately, this has proven not to be the case.

The overall spread of COVID-19 in Barrow County has quickly become alarmingly high. As school started, health officials advised we were not likely to see anywhere near the peak of infection rates we experienced in January of 2020. This prediction did not come true. The heat maps below illustrate how quickly the state went from a low number of positive cases to where we find ourselves now. Note the changes over the last three months from June 27th to July 27th to August 27th in the maps below.

June 27 COVID-19 Cases by County July 27 COVID-19 Cases by County August 27 COVID-19 Cases by County

However, community spread levels are not the primary measure we look at anymore. We consider it and track it consistently, but what is going on in our schools is the main factor utilized. We analyze our school data daily. Today we have 192 known and current positive cases of COVID-19 among our students.

This is a marked rise in our numbers since the last communication dated August 18, 2021. In that communication, it was noted we had a relatively low number of positive cases at 86 (0.60%) of our school system student population. Now, the number has basically doubled since August 18 to 174 (1.21%). However, we have begun to see some slowing in several of the schools presently under a temporary mask mandate over the past week.

At this point, we have in excess of 4,400 students and 85 staff members who have been quarantined across the system so far (20 school days) during a time when we have not required masks. Many staff members have avoided quarantine because they have already been vaccinated.

In an attempt to bring this number down in the safest manner possible, we will be transitioning to a temporary system-wide indoor mask requirement beginning Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021.

  • This applies to all indoor areas of any BCSS facility and our school buses.
  • Any student with a valid note from a doctor, medical professional, or therapist confirming the student should not wear a mask will be excused from the requirement.
  • Doctors' notes for mask exemptions must be submitted to your child’s school. It will be reviewed and verified by the district. The child will be required to wear a mask until the note is verified. (9/2/21) 

When the numbers of positive cases and related quarantines are at a manageable number system-wide, we will rescind the requirement.

Due to this change, all students currently quarantined as a close contact who are not positive for COVID-19 and are asymptomatic may return to school on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. This does not apply to staff currently quarantined.

I want to underscore this is not a political or emotional based decision. This decision has been made to reduce the number of students being placed on at-home quarantines and to keep our classrooms and extracurricular opportunities safely open and available to our students. The other immediate option is to begin canceling extracurricular offerings and moving schools entirely to virtual learning as many other school districts are beginning to across our state. This is an action we are committed to avoiding to every extent possible.

Please understand that arguments regarding masks, mask types and their levels of protection, vaccine efficiency, and variant impact, are not helpful to the decisions we need to make to keep our schools open on a daily and weekly basis. These are matters for medical experts and health department officials to research and recommend, not school boards or school staff and administrators. Nothing we do is intended to curtail anyone’s freedoms or rights. We are merely trying to keep our schools and programs open in the safest, healthiest way possible, based on our own emerging data in conjunction with the vast majority of guidance we have available at the time from the health care community.

Likewise, whether such actions as masking requirements should be legal in the future (they currently are) are arguments for those in the legal and judicial fields to decide, not school boards and school leaders. All actions we undertake are reviewed for legality and procedural compliance.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has and continues to strain the availability and ability of school administrators to balance all of the above on a daily basis. When members of the public additionally subject these administrators to heated and personal attacks, however well-meaning those individuals may be in intent, our capacity to continue with our mission of educating our students is further degraded. Please give us the space and grace to do our best to protect all our students and staff, and to provide the best education we can in these difficult times.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we continue to do our best to adapt to the ongoing challenges that COVID-19 has brought to our county while staying focused on our core purpose of providing the service of education to our community.

Dr. Chris McMichael
Superintendent, Barrow County School System

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