Schools’ patchwork mask rules create confusion in Atlanta area

Atlanta — As students are returning to the classroom, there’s been confusion and frustration over masking policies. In some school districts, like those in the Atlanta area, there is a patchwork of mask requirements as COVID-19 vaccination rates lag. 

Masking policies vary by school district, even day to day. Douglas County changed its policy two days before school began, from masks recommended to masks required. 

“Leading isn’t easy, and I know that the decision to wear masks, that isn’t popular,” Douglas County superintendent Trent North said. “As soon as it’s safe, we’re going to go back to not wearing masks.” 

Schools in the Atlanta area have several policies. Many require them — but sometimes, masks are recommended or optional. 

Three weeks into the school year, more than 23,000 students and staff across the Atlanta metro area have had to quarantine after being exposed to COVID, according to one estimate. This comes against the backdrop of a 17% COVID positivity rate in Georgia and mask hostility among residents. 

Atlanta Public Schools has mandated masks amid its low vaccination rates. Nearly one in five eligible students are fully vaccinated and three in five teachers and staff are also fully vaccinated or plan to be. 

Kathy King, a mother of two fifth-graders, said she’s pleased with the mask mandates. “At this age, nobody can be vaccinated,” she said. 

Angel Touwsma’s 5-year-old just started kindergarten. “It tugs on the heartstrings. I worry about him getting really sick,” she said. 

A CBS News poll found 58% of parents support requiring masks in schools compared to 36% who think they should be optional and 6% who say they should not be allowed. A majority were concerned about their children contracting COVID at school, but more than half said schools should not require the vaccine for children who are eligible.