Students at Fulton County schools might have the option to go maskless on Monday, Nov. 1, if less than one percent of the school population has tested positive for COVID-19.

Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney told the school board on Oct. 21 that he may waive the mask requirement on an individual school basis.

Superintendent Mike Looney announced the change in policy to make masks optional at schools where positive cases are less than one percent of the staff and student population at individual schools. (FCS)

“Every Friday when we publish the incident report, we will publish the rate, and the families will know for the following week whether masks will be optional or not,” he said.

But the maskless option could become standard soon. Looney said all schools and FCS facilities will become mask optional for students, staff and visitors 30 days after a vaccine is approved for children ages 5 and above, which could be announced in November.

“We expect next week for the FDA to approve vaccinations for children older than five. We’re not promoting the vaccine. We’re not going to require the vaccine. But, we do know, as more people become vaccinated, we see less cases our schools,” Looney said.

The school district intends to allow families 30 days to consider becoming vaccinated. At that time, he said they will make masks optional for students, visitors and employees.

Once the FDA approves the vaccination for children ages 5 and up, unless a significant change in risk related to COVID-19 comes along such as another variant, Looney said he doesn’t expect mask mandates.

“There are just so many variables, but I don’t anticipate us going back to masks as a requirement unless one of those types of events happens,” he said.

The positive rate for all Fulton County schools was well below 1 percent in the Oct. 15-21 report, which would make all schools eligible for the maskless option if that trend continues in the report being posted on Friday, Oct. 29.

For example, Riverwood International Charter High had one reported case in the most recent data set. With a school population of 1,890, it would reach the 1 percent rate if 19 students and staff tested positive. Sandy Springs Middle School’s population of 984 would reach the threshold with 10 positive cases. Only one was listed on the last report.

The school district will continue all other mitigation measures, including assigned seating in classes and the federally-mandated mask requirement on school buses and all other public transportation. Visitors will be allowed, but with limits.

“The district remains committed to the mask optional strategy that we had, and is committed to using local school data to inform our decisions to the fullest extent possible,” Looney said.

The downward trend of cases since early September makes the school district think it’s weathered most of the storm. The community and staff showed an exceptionally high level of compliance in health safety, from washing hands to social distancing, masking and reporting positive cases, he said.

“The district’s strategy to intervene at the classroom, grade and school level has minimized learning disruptions across the district. You’ll remember that last year we closed the entire district down for an extended period of time,” Looney said.

This year, the school district has localized closures. And a significant number of FCS employees have been vaccinated.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.