Marietta City Schools will move to a mask-optional policy in school buildings and on school buses beginning Saturday, according to Superintendent Grant Rivera.

Cobb Schools has maintained a mask optional policy since both Cobb and Marietta Schools lifted their mask mandate over the summer. Marietta City Schools, meanwhile, moved to a temporary mask mandate in August as COVID-19 cases began to spike again.

In an email to MCS families on Thursday afternoon, Rivera said the district made the decision to switch back to a mask optional policy after seeing a significant decline in COVID positivity rate in Cobb County and a “continued local decline” in cases for school-aged children.

The same drop in cases was found in MCS student and staff data, Rivera said.

“Throughout this pandemic, we’ve strived to achieve the appropriate balance between our instructional needs and public health protocols. MCS has been progressive in our safety mitigation strategies, which include being one of the first school districts in Georgia to implement the ‘test-and-stay’ model that allows students to return to school during a quarantine after daily rapid antigen testing,” Rivera wrote. “The decision to transition to mask-optional is one more step in establishing some degree of normalcy in our schools, as the data indicates conditions have changed significantly from the start of the school year.”

The superintendent acknowledged the policy change would frustrate, or even anger, some families, while others would be “delighted and relieved.”

“I ask for your continued grace with me and with each other. Nothing about a pandemic is static – our district’s response will continue to evolve as both this virus and the data evolve,” he wrote.

Rivera’s email also addressed several additional details:

♦ Contact tracing and quarantine protocols will continue, and any student or staff member identified as a school-based close contact with COVID-19 who remains asymptomatic will still be able to participate in the test-and-stay protocol.

♦ A student or staff member participating in the test-and-stay program will be required to wear a mask each school day of the 7-day quarantine, if they’re able to return to school.

♦ High school students who plan to attend the homecoming dance on Saturday will have the option to wear or not wear a mask.

♦ Non-staff school volunteers will still be limited to an isolated area away from students and staff and will be let into a school at the discretion of its principal.

♦ For upcoming elementary and middle school teacher conferences, masks will be required for indoor, in-person conferences. If a teacher prefers to hold the meeting outside, masks will not be required. Families can also choose to shift the conference to virtual, by contacting their child’s teacher.

♦ MCS will honor COVID protocols that differ from MCS’, including a mask requirement, if a school field trip destination has one. All students and families will be made aware in advance of the specific expectations.

♦ MCS will continue to offer COVID testing Monday through Friday at the district’s Lemon Street location. Weekly surveillance testing by the Georgia Department of Public Health will also start in coming weeks for families who opted into the program.

♦ Cobb-Douglas Public Health advised MCS that vaccinations for younger students, ages 5-11 may be approved under for Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration on Oct. 26. The district is also awaiting more guidance on booster shots for students and staff 12 and older. Through a partnership with Poole’s Pharmacy in Marietta, the district says it will be prepared to provide the vaccine to interested parties in the MCS community.

Rivera closed his message saying the district can’t be certain of the future of the pandemic, but hopes that another mask mandate will not be necessary. However, he added, “please know that we will continue to be responsive to the data.”

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

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