Clay board of education enacts mask requirement for students

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HAYESVILLE, Ga – Clay County Board of Education issued a mask mandate just a few days before the start of the school year.

The policy will revisit the decision on September 7 to determine if the mask requirement needs to continue. On July 26, the board decided masks could be a parent option. At that time, Clay County reported only 10 active cases.

As of August 18, Clay County recorded 64 active cases, 2 positive school staff, 1 quarantined, 13 positive students, and 21 quarantined students.

Federal regulation already mandates masks to always be worn on buses. Disposable masks will be available on every bus. Additionally, the school system will provide five cloth masks to students.

Towns County Elementary closed this week because of staff and student cases within the school. Towns County began the 2021-2022 year just two weeks ago.

Several factors went into the decision including NCDHHS and Strong Schools quarantine guidelines and learning habits of Clay County Schools (CCS) students.

“The goal is to have face-to-face instruction at least five days per week as close to normal as possible,” Superintendent Dale Cole explained. “Our second graders have never had a full year of school.”

NCDHHS policy states that students within close contact with a positive case while wearing a mask do not need to quarantine. However, both students the positive case and potentially exposed child need to be properly wearing a mask at the time. The quarantine exemption does not include extracurricular activities or athletics, just the classroom setting.

“Optional masking will likely lead to multiple quarantines among students and staff creating default remote instruction for much of the time the next few months,” Cole stated. “So as the situation changes, we have to make decisions.”

Board Chairperson Jason Shook explained that a majority of students struggled to adjust to online education and forcing a child to juggle between in-person and online isn’t beneficial to them.

Data from last year showcased the learning hurdles, especially in math. For the majority of 2020-2021, students were either online or only in person two to three days a week.

The health department has final authority on who needs to quarantine or not. The school can’t override a decision made by the health department.

Online Learning Option

The virtual option will continue to be available for parents who requested it. As of August 18, 44 requests had been made. Superintendent Cole explained the number could drop with a mask mandate in place.

The cost of virtual learning per student is between $1,500 – $2,000 for K-8 and $3,000 for high schoolers. CCS has federal funding to cover these costs. The board will revisit the necessity of the online option for the second semester.

To try and limit community spread, the schools will be disinfected on Wednesdays and weekends. Field trips will be canceled or postponed for the next month.

Visitors will be allowed in the office area only and must wear masks.

As far as sporting events, masks must be worn on the sidelines and on activity buses. Spectators aren’t expected to wear masks at this time. Gyms will be disinfected after every game. CCS policy for athletics mirrors the procedures in place with the rest of the conference.

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