By Rebecca Gaunt
Cobb County School District released its COVID-19 protocols for the 2021-2022 school year Tuesday, but many families are frustrated by unanswered questions.
[Editor’s note: an open inquiry was made on two social media groups popular with Cobb parents, and no one opposed to mask mandates responded]
A summary of the protocols:
- Face coverings optional at school, on buses, and at extracurricular activities.
- Social distancing when appropriate and feasible.
- Hand sanitizer will be available.
- Buses cleaned after each route.
- Daily cleaning of high touch surfaces.
- School nurses have discretion to request masks in the clinic or have students isolated if exhibiting COVID symptoms.
- Parents/guardians will be contacted by the school tracing team if a student is exposed.
Parents and guardians who are worried about Covid variants or have children too young to be vaccinated are questioning their children’s safety with no mask requirement. Others want details on how CCSD plans to handle the quarantines that will inevitably result from exposure.
Some students who had repeated exposures last year missed several weeks of school.
According to the CCSD website, quarantine procedures will follow CDC and Department of Public Health guidelines. When the guidelines were released to the public, they linked to the Cobb & Douglas Public Health general page on COVID-19, where parents had to search for the information. The site hadn’t updated quarantine recommendations since December 2020, before vaccines were widely available. This led to a lot of confusion as those still required a 14-day quarantine for everyone.
Finding current guidelines required a separate search which can be found here at the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Between the time the Courier reached out for comment and received a response on the issues with the link, the link on the Cobb & Douglas Public Health page was updated to go to the updated guidelines.
The updated guidelines from the DPH do not require quarantine for fully-vaccinated individuals, but the non-vaccinated may face a 7, 10, or 14 day quarantine depending on circumstances.
The DPH also recommends even fully-vaccinated individuals continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.
Many parents have expressed frustration in Cobb School Facebook groups at the conflicting information and the need to search for it. They want clarification from the county not just on how quarantine procedures will work, but how students will be allowed to keep up with their work if quarantined.
Last year, the county relied on CTLS (Cobb Teaching and Learning System) for virtual learning and teachers had to balance both in-person and remote students. In July 2020, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale requested more than $8 million in CARES Act funding from the Cobb County Board of Commissioners to expand the platform.
This year, teachers will not have to do double duty. Virtual learners in middle and high school will attend through the Cobb Online Learning Academy. Elementary virtual learning is being handled at the school level, but teachers will only teach one model.
Last year, a quarantined student could join their class from home via CTLS. Parents want to know how students will be allowed to keep up this year if quarantined at home for as much as two weeks when virtual and face-to-face are operating independently.
Optional masks are the other big source of contention. The deadline to choose virtual learning was in the spring. Given the rising number of cases due to Covid variants, breakthrough infections of the vaccinated, and that children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination, some parents say they are concerned about the choice they made months ago. Cobb is not allowing families to change their decision.
“I’m frustrated about the lack of mask requirements for elementary school. I feel like this once again disproportionately affects our kids with educational needs – many of whom have complex medical needs and have to make choices between attending school with masks or continuing to miss out on appropriate education according to IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act],” Jennifer Goodner said.
Last year, Goodner withdrew her son and homeschooled, but made the decision to return in person, thinking masks would be required for elementary school.
Jessica Grant has a rising kindergartner at Frey Elementary. She told the Courier she’s disappointed by the guidelines and no longer feels confident in her decision to send her kid to school.
“I chose face to face because I thought the schools would be following professional recommendations. Instead it feels like they are taking a political stance…I spent a year and a half keeping my kid safe. And now I’m supposed to send her into a school with hundreds of other kids who won’t be wearing masks?” Grant said.
The Courier reached out to the district for clarification on the policy. The district was asked for more information on length of quarantine, who would be subject to quarantine, and how quarantined students would be able to access instruction.
A district spokesperson responded, “Recognizing that Cobb families want to be able to choose the learning environment that best supports the needs of their family, all Cobb families were given a choice between face-to-face and virtual classrooms for the upcoming school year. More details on each of our virtual programs and schools can be found at www.cobblearningeverywhere.com. All available public health protocols for the 2021-2022 school year were released earlier this week.”
For now, parents are being told to contact the schools for more specific information. One parent said she asked administrators how her middle schooler would receive instruction if quarantined. She said she was told none would be offered and students will have to keep up on their own.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended everyone over the age of 2 wear a mask at school regardless of vaccination status.
Dekalb County, Clayton County and Atlanta Public Schools are mandating masks for all students and staff for the 2021-2022 school year. Gwinnett County, Fulton County, and Marietta City Schools are optional.
Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.