DeKalb County School District will require masks when school returns

Gigi Stanor checks his cell phone while passing a sign placed by the Clarkston COVID-19 Task Force, in partnership with the City of Clarkston and DeKalb County on July 25, 2020. The task force distributed thousands of masks, hand sanitizer, and educational material to apartment communities in Clarkston to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Photo by Dean Hesse.

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County School District will continue to require masks for students and staff based on recent Centers for Disease control guidance as well as recommendations from the district’s medical advisory board.

Interim Deputy Superintendent Dr. Deborah Moore-Sanders said, “Because of the rise of the delta variant, and we know that our elementary age students are not eligible for vaccines, it’s in the best interests of all for safety that we all wear our masks.”

Moore-Sanders stated that although the CDC has said that unvaccinated people can go without masks, it was difficult for the district to know who was vaccinated and who wasn’t, so the policy will be that everyone will wear a mask.  According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 49% of DeKalb County residents have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 43% are fully vaccinated. Distribution of PPE to teachers and staff will continue.

Several parents showed up to the public comment period for the DeKalb County Board of Education meeting on July 12 to ask when the windows at Laurel Ridge Elementary will be replaced.  The windows are contaminated with lead based paint.  The district allocated $818,650 to replace the windows in January, but the project has been plagued by delays caused by supply chain problems.

Whitney McGinniss said, “Lead was discovered at our school over sixteen months ago. The school district’s stopgap attempts at encapsulation methods have already failed.”

“The most common source of exposure for children is dust from lead based paint,” said McGinniss. She expressed concern that students are due to return Aug. 2, less than a month away.

“These are not just problems at Laurel Hill Elementary, but across the district,” McGinniss added.

Kristen Rivera, a professional geologist who works for the state environmental protection division, said, “As we all  know, there is no safe level of exposure to lead for children.”

The district did not offer a firm date for completion of the project at Laurel Ridge. In a presentation, Chief Academic Officer Stacy Stepney stated that construction projects for all schools in the district were about 50 percent complete.

Stepney also stated that when school begins Aug 2, it will be as full time in person learning. Stepney said 1,533 students have asked for a virtual schooling option, about 2% of the student population.

Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris stated that the district plans to avoid concurrent instruction as much as possible,  but will offer high quality remote learning to those who want it.  “

It is our hope that the majority of our children will return to school,” said Watson-Harris.

Expenditure and budgeting requests included renewing the use of Northwest Evaluation Association systems for the Measure of Academic Progress assessments, purchasing water bottle filling stations, and e SPLOST projects to repair elementary schools.

A request to increase the 2020-2021 budget for athletic equipment from $200,000 to $474,543 was voted down by the board, with a request for a more detailed plan for how the money would be spent.

Approval of the DeKalb County School District Fiscal Year 2022 Budget was deferred to a later meeting.

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