City DopeNews

Districts Surrounding Clarke Reopen Schools, No Masks Required

Oconee County residents protest the reopening of schools without a mask mandate.

The Clarke County School District first pushed back the start of school over a month, until Sept. 8, then pulled the plug on in-person learning entirely—at least for now—joining most metro Atlanta and other large districts around the state that are moving to virtual learning during the pandemic. Other area school districts are taking a different stance. 

In the New York Times last week, former Flagpole editor Richard Faussett, who now works in the Times’ Atlanta bureau, reported on schools in nearby Jefferson, about 20 miles northwest of Athens. Even in that conservative community, some parents and students are anxious about the safety of reopening. Jefferson schools reopened last Friday, without a mask mandate in classrooms.

In Oconee County, where schools start Aug. 5, parents protested a lack of clarity on COVID plans, according to Flagpole contributor Lee Becker’s Oconee County Observations blog. Teachers “are terrified,” said former employee Katie Castleberry, who resigned over the district’s coronavirus response. “No one has asked them how they feel. No one has asked them what the year is supposed to look like digitally or otherwise.”As in Jefferson, masks are encouraged, but not required. 

Barrow County is another district where face coverings are “strongly encouraged,” but not mandated indoors. Barrow schools started up Aug. 4. (Editor’s note: Since this article was written, Barrow has opted to start all classes online Aug. 17 and bring students back for in-person instruction in phases.)

Jackson County Superintendent April Howard said that district will “ask” all teachers and students to wear masks inside schools when school begins Aug. 12.

In Madison County, which starts Aug. 14, “masks are expected to be worn when social distancing is not possible.” Masks are encouraged but not required in Oglethorpe County, which considered moving up the first day of school to avoid a COVID spike later on in the year, but stuck with Aug. 10. 

All of the districts surrounding Clarke County are offering online as well as in-person options.