FULTON COUNTY, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — More Metro Atlanta students returned to the classrooms this week as the debate over mask mandates heats up. Classes for an estimated 93,000 Fulton County students started on Monday, with the majority of them having to wear masks. The mandates come after the county’s Board of Health reported a high rate of cases in most of the area’s cities.

“We are committed to not requiring masks when it’s not necessary. At the same time, safety comes first, and we are committed to requiring masks when the data tells us it’s the right thing to do,” said Fulton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney.

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Looney visited several schools for the first day of classes on August 9, 2021, including Langston Hughes High School. “From what I have seen, students and teachers are enthused about being back together,” he said. The school system just added the mask requirement last week, after reporting 91 known COVID cases. “What has caused us to pivot to requiring masks in 13 of our cities is that the Delta variant continues to spike up,” said Looney. As of Monday, Johns Creek was the only city in the county without a mask mandate in schools.

Many parents support the mask requirement. “The children could pass it to the adults just as well as the adults could pass it to the children, so if the adults have to wear them, the children should too,” said Daviana Standokes, whose children attend Renaissance Elementary and Middle Schools and Langston High.

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Looney said school officials are focusing on safety, uninterrupted face-to-face instruction and giving parents as much choice as possible. Parents in Fulton and Gwinnett Counties recently protested the mask requirements. ”These are untested mitigations that have zero efficacy standards for children. They’re unproven,” said Gwinnett County parent Jamie Reinhold, who tutors students in statistics. She said the mask mandates and CDC guidelines are politicized and unnecessary. “Any medical decisions should be made by the parents. We should have the choice to decide what happens to our own children,” Reinhold said.

Many parents also oppose vaccinations. Fulton County school officials say they’ll continue following CDC and other healthcare recommendations. “I would just encourage our parents to be patient and understanding, because this is a very difficult and dynamic process,” Looney said.

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Both sides say they hope to see the end of the mask mandates sooner rather than later.