In an emotional plea to school officials, a local resident begged the Board of Education July 21 to hold fast to its decision to open schools in August.

Speaking at a July 21 Board of Education meeting, the woman said she is raising her grandson who has special needs and requires the social interaction a classroom setting provides.

The woman, whose name is being withheld to protect the student’s privacy, said her grandson’s list of learning disabilities and cognitive issues encompass a 31-page report of accommodations that must be made, but that she cannot provide in a home setting.

“He [struggles to learn] virtually,” she explained. “If we go totally virtual… I’m done. He’s going into first grade— he’s already behind — he needs to be in a classroom.

The grandmother also asked the board to grant exceptions to a face mask policy, if face coverings are mandatory. She said her grandson has “panic attacks” after even a short time of wearing one.

“I’ve fought hard for this little boy his whole life, and I’m going to continue to fight, but I’m not a schoolteacher,” she said. “[He needs] to be taught by a certified teacher.”

Current district guidelines for re-opening do not include mandatory face masks, except when on a school bus, but the issue is still under consideration.

Resident Brian Pounds said a district survey shows a majority of residents had concerns about returning to school with COVID-19 still a factor. He questioned the district’s decision to only encourage face masks.

“Even if ‘highly recommended’ is still an option, it is subject to views that are not medically based,” Pounds said. “If face masks are not mandated we are going to end up with more cases.”

He said the community can assist.

“Parents would rally to support temperature checks and other things we can do as a community to help protect students,” Pounds said.

Another resident, William Rich noted some children return to a home where parents or grandparents have health issues. Wearing face masks will protect those vulnerable populations, he said.

Resident Heather Tatum spoke in favor of the district’s current guidelines, including options for learning — virtual or in person — and the option for face masks. She said studies show children, especially younger children, touch their faces more often when wearing masks, which may negate some of the value.

“For this reason, I don’t agree with mandating masks, [since] it may not be an appropriate choice for every family and every student,” Tatum said.

She encouraged the board to implement a “zero tolerance on bullying” to avoid singling out students who choose to wear, or not wear, a face covering.

Candy Waylock is an award winning education reporter who has covered all things education for Appen Media over the past 20 years. She is an Alpharetta resident.

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