EAST COBB, Ga. — In less than a month, Marietta students will head back to their classrooms for the first time since mid-March. School starts on August 4th, and there will be some very noticeable changes including face masks which all students and staff will be required to wear, to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We wanted to be on the safe side of medical research but on the progressive side of student and staff safety,” Superintendent Grant Rivera said. “So we've been consulting with Cobb and Douglas Public Health and really leaning on them to guide us in this conversation. Their health experts said ‘listen, if you wish to mitigate risk, potentially to the greatest degree possible compared to any other strategy you might have, masks are the right way to go.’ For me, it was about honoring their recommendation and finding a way to operationalize that across 9,000 children in 12 school campuses.”
The Marietta City School District was the first in metro Atlanta to require face masks, and Rivera said he’s gotten positive feedback since making the announcement last week.
“Really the questions have been focused more around ‘let's talk about how to set our kids up for success’ and proactive conversations that range from ‘how can we give kids a break during the day?’ to families that are asking ‘what kind of masks would be best for a child wearing glasses so their glasses don't fog up?’ So a lot of very proactive conversations as families partner with us for a successful opening of the year,” Rivera said.
Students and staff are encouraged to bring his or her own mask, but disposable masks will be available at the school, Rivera said. Any child who refuses to wear a mask will have the option to take classes online, he said.
“This is a requirement,” Rivera said. “At the end of the day, students who do not wear a mask are putting others at risk, not just themselves. We are willing to engage and have one-on-one conversations with children and families who need additional considerations.”
He went on to say that mandatory face masks are not the only change with the Marietta City School District.
“We are going to limit any non-essential visitors inside the school building to make sure that we can keep students and staff as safe as possible,” Rivera said. “In addition to that, we are limiting any large group assemblies and field trips, for the time being, to make sure we keep focused on learning, maximize instructional time, and really not co-mingle and bring groups of kids together.”
Individual town hall meetings are also being planned for each school within the district, he said.
“It's a one-hour opportunity per school for families to engage with the principal and myself and really talk about very specific considerations that apply to that specific school,” Rivera said. “In addition to that, we're also holding similar sessions for all staff. So we have both our teaching staff and other staff that are really trying to take a situation that can be very confusing and intimidating, kind of walk through with every family and every staff member our protocols, answer questions and what have you, to give them the greatest understanding of how we're partnering together to keep them safe.”
Rivera, who has a doctorate degree in education and has worked for many years in public schools, said he’s never dealt with anything like this, calling the past few months the most unusual time he’s ever experienced as an educator.
“I took a whole lot of classes and I read a lot of books on school leadership. There wasn't a chapter in any book or lecture in any class that spoke to how to deal with a health pandemic,” he said. “We want to approach this, the mask requirement, with really a common-sense approach, an approach that provides incredible patience and understanding and consideration of each child.”
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