A school district in southwest Georgia is set to become one of the first in the country to resume in-person classes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Jefferson school district is set to begin in-person classes Friday even as most districts across Georgia have either postponed their start dates or elected to reconvene completely online, The New York Times reported.
For some families, however, most concerning is not that the district is reopening, but that administrators have “strongly encouraged” students to wear masks instead of explicitly mandating them.
The decision has created a microcosm of the debate that the United States has witnessed over masks in recent months. In response to the absence of a mask mandate, two seniors at Jefferson High School created an online petition calling for them to be made mandatory which has collected over 600 signatures as of Tuesday, according to the New York Times.
In response, a competing petition calling for masks to be optional has garnered over 200 signatures, with some signers leaving comments accusing the debate of being politicized.
“Only liberals get rona and I’m not a liberal,” one comment said, according to the New York Times, referring to the coronavirus.
Jefferson’s planned reopening comes as some of the largest school districts in the United States, including those in Los Angeles and New York City, recently announced plans to resume classes at least partially online.
In contrast, President Donald Trump has called for schools to reopen in-person, even if it requires a delayed start date, The New York Times reported. His calls were echoed Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control.
The overall risk of holding in-person classes is not completely known. While numerous studies have concluded that children and younger Americans are less likely to become ill or die from the coronavirus, there has been less conclusive research over how likely they are to transmit the virus to others, according to the CDC, though some recent studies have shown that they are less likely to spread the disease.
— Sam Litzinger (@SamLitzinger) July 28, 2020
Georgia has recorded over 165,000 coronavirus cases and almost 3,500 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University database.
Jackson County, where Jefferson is located, has suffered only 13 deaths, according to The New York Times.
Donna McMullin, Jefferson’s superintendent, acknowledged the anxiousness about resuming in-person classes, and said that the reason masks were not being mandated was due to students with medical exemptions and disabilities, The New York Times reported.
Dr. McMullin did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request to comment.
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