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Metro Atlanta Schools Revisit Face Mask Requirements After Executive Order

ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) -- Face masks are still required for the more than 11,000 Atlanta Public Schools students who started summer academic recovery classes on June 2, 2021. "Until the CDC recommends that masks be optional for students, we're gonna continue to require it," said Atlanta School Board Chairman Jason Esteves.

Students and staff in Cobb County Schools and Marietta City Schools now have the option of not wearing masks. Gwinnett County schools no longer requires them, but strongly recommends them. This comes after Governor Brian Kemp's May 28 Executive Order restricting school systems from requiring face coverings. Esteves says it's too soon for APD to let its guard down. "Only about 2% of Georgia's children between the ages of 12 and 15 are vaccinated," he said. Children under the age of 12 are currently not eligible for the vaccine.

Georgia State University Law Professor Anthony Michael Kreis says the Executive Order doesn't carry much weight. "The governor doesn't have the authority to dictate unilaterally to school districts what they can or cannot do, in terms of masking policy," Kreis said. The order simply means schools can't use Kemp's Public Health Emergency Declaration to justify mandatory school mask requirements. "It's a political statement more than anything else," he said. "We're not really focused on the politics of the gubernatorial campaign, which is what it seems like this order is all about," said Esteves, saying the board is going to "focus on the medical advice of experts."

Kreis says any lawsuits against mask requirements would likely not hold up in court. "Local school boards are the primary source of policy for governing and maintaining schools," he said. Ultimately, it's up to the schools to decide on any requirements.

"My hope is in the fall we'll be in a place where it's safe for everyone to not wear a mask," said Esteves. He says APS will review the situation by the end of the summer to determine the next steps for the fall.

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