ST. MARYS, Ga. – Camden County students headed back to school on Monday -- the first district in our area to begin classes and the only one with a mask requirement in place.
The school district announced last week that all students, teachers and staff will be required to wear a mask or face covering when schools open. The rule applies in schools, offices and administration buildings.
The school district said the mask requirement will be reviewed once the community transmission rate for coronavirus falls to below 200. As of Saturday, the community transmission rate in Camden County was over 1,000.
“This news may be sobering but it is the reality that we are facing in Camden. We believe we are beginning a great new school year, but we are once again faced with challenges we must overcome to serve our students and to support each other,” the district wrote in its safe opening plan. “As a school system, we are going to do everything in our power to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in our community and prepare our schools to safely reopen on August 2nd.”
According to the district’s plan, masks are also required on the bus.
The district said that as part of its reopening plan, parents and caregivers are asked to pre-screen their children before sending them off to school. Social distancing of at least 3 feet will be maintained and high-traffic areas will be regularly sanitized, according to the plan.
In addition, the plan states there won’t be any large assemblies or gatherings until further notice.
Parents were mostly supportive of the new rules.
“I’m a former teacher myself, so I get you’re trying to have safety for the parents and the teachers who have to work up close and personal with them,” Camden County mother Michelle Knapp said. “I’m not super thrilled about the masks at all, of course, but if it’s what we have to do for the moment, then it’s what we have to do.”
“I also have a concern that they have to wear them again,” said Bambi Parham, whose grandson attends St. Marys Elementary. “You know, it’s that fine line between letting them back to normal, but safety. So, I do agree that they need to wear them now with this variant that has just taken over.”
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance and suggested that all students, teachers and staff wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The updated guidance came less than a week after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that students return to school in-person learning this fall as long as everyone two and older wears a mask.
Four of Georgia’s largest school districts are also requiring masks as students return to class: Atlanta, Clayton, DeKalb and Gwinnett.
The students News4Jax saw Monday morning were all smiles as they posed for back-to-school photos before heading to their first classes. Parents hoped the smiles stayed on after they put on their masks.
“You get used to it the more you wear it,” 5th-grader Cannon Parham said. “It’s annoying the first time you wear it but then after a few days, it’s pretty normal.”
Cannon’s grandmother said her family has seen the impact of the virus first hand.
“We’ve had several family members get it, so it’s close to home. And we understand the importance of vaccines and all of that,” Parham said.