Masks will be required in Savannah-Chatham schools to start the new year

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 11:02 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2021 at 11:32 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Masks will be required in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System to start the new school year.

Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett made the announcement during a back to school update news conference on Tuesday, July 27.

There are about 37,000 students in the school system. They are requiring masks for everyone in their buildings as they hope to maintain in-person learning five days a week.

In addition to masking, we know students will also be temperature checked as they enter the building.

It’s clear COVID cases are on the rise in Chatham County with nearly all metrics in the danger zone. That’s why school nurses say they are refreshing their COVID training as students return next week.

Public school leaders say all nurses are trained on contact tracing and are prepared to handle the ongoing pandemic. They say they have a team within every single school who will handle COVID cases as they come up.

They already have questionnaires and protocol should someone test positive or be exposed to someone else who is positive. While nurses will be ready to handle the cases, they say it will be a partnership with families to make sure mitigation is followed through all around.

“Being person is what we want and in order for us to be successful being in person we will need to all agree that these mitigation strategies have to be implemented consistently and it mean everybody has to agree we’re going to wear masks, we’re going to wash our hands, we’re going to talk to our kids about what they do and don’t do and we are going to keep people home if they are sick,” said Nurse Christina Chancey, District Cluster Nurse.

Nurses say perfect attendance should not be the goal this year, but practicing caution and thinking of others should be.

Another important note is that the guidance will be different depending on vaccination status, which nurses can learn during contact tracing. Nurses tell WTOC two cases within a classroom is considered a cluster and could lead to quarantines. Something families should keep in mind.

When it comes to inside the schools, the district has made improvement to the air quality and say they are changing filters regularly. They also will have staff regularly cleaning high touch areas and fog classrooms, the cafeteria and playground.

Operations leaders say they have plenty of cleaning supplies and PPE to last them. School officials say it’s clear going back to school is different this year, but they are moving forward and need help to ensure that continues.

“We are doing everything humanly possible to use our multi-layered strategies for mitigation that is why we have moved to masks, requiring masks indoors, because we know based on the science that we are acquainted with that masking is a part of that as well as sanitizing. We are not able to social distance this year to a wide extent because our intention is to serve as many children as possible in person, but we recognize that if the conditions dictate that we move to hybrid we are prepared to do so,” said Dr. Ann Levett.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson thanked school district leaders for following the science, adding when it comes to protecting teachers, staff and students, that requiring masks is the best decision to make right now.

“Good for them, good for us. This makes absolute sense, and as I said earlier, the school board, our school system, our public school system has been following the science,” said Mayor Johnson. “The school system is county-wide, so this benefits the entire county, whether or not the municipality has a mask mandate.”

SCCPSS students go back to school on Wednesday, Aug. 4.

Reaction from families

A lot of people WTOC talked to had a strong opinion on this. We simply asked, what they thought and let the parents and kids take it away.

“I don’t really believe that COVID is as dangerous as they say and most people haven’t worn a mask or haven’t been social distancing and we’ve been traveling,” said parent Kristen Stampfer.

She’s worried about her 4-year-old’s social experience.

“I feel like it takes away especially from the small children like facial expression, identity. I just don’t think it’s something that they should have to do.”

But not all parents feel the same way.

“When it comes to school, I feel all kids should wear masks regardless of what’s going on or wherever’s going on. We got a thing behind us called Delta, it’s Delta now,” said parent Daniel Christopher Butler.

And the kids have an opinion too.

“I’m a little weary of wearing masks cause I do feel like I suffocate some times and I can be able to take it off or pull it down for a breather, but I do think I can get through it cause this disease is very bad and I want to be able to see my baby brother,” said rising 5th grader Alivia Christenson.

WTOC spoke with several other parents and kids and the majority were in favor of masks, saying safety was the priority and as long as that was achieved, it didn’t really matter how.

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