Imagine a pandemic dominating much of your high school career.

For the Gwinnett County Public Schools and Buford City Schools classes of 2023, it doesn’t take that much imagination. The pandemic that began near the end of their freshman year and hung over their entire sophomore year will still make its presence felt as they begin their junior year this week.

“While we are attempting to return to something resembling normal, COVID-19 has not entirely gone away,” Buford City Schools Superintendent Robert Downs said in information posted on the district’s website on Wednesday.

GCPS is beginning its school year on staggered start for in-person learning students, with kindergartners, 1st, 6th, 9th graders as well as students with special needs who are taught in small groups returning to the classroom on Aug. 4, and 2nd, 3rd, 7th and 10th graders returning to the classroom on Aug. 5.

The remaining students whose families chose in-person instruction will come back to school Aug. 9.

Students who are not in a physical classroom on Aug. 4 will still begin the school year on that day, but they will do so digitally and continue that way until their grade level is assigned to return to schools for in-person learning.

And when GCPS students do get to step back into their schools, they will be wearing face masks as the mask mandate that was lifted at the beginning of the summer was re-instated this past week.

“While disappointed that the school year will start with masks, GCPS is very happy that its students will be starting the school year in person,” GCPS officials said in a statement on Tuesday. “Please know that district leaders will continue to monitor for new guidance from the CDC, health partners and the state, using it to make updates throughout the 2021–22 school year.”

Meanwhile, Buford City Schools has set Aug. 4 as its first day of school. Buford City Schools is not requiring face masks in the school buildings — school buses are a different story — at this point, but it is urging the students and staff members who have not been vaccinated to wear some form of face covering in the buildings.

“However, masking is optional at BCS,” Downs said. “Students will be required to wear cloth face coverings on BCS school buses (a federal mandate). Face coverings should be a solid color or one that has the BCS logo on it.”

Buford schools is also encouraging social distancing of at least three feet in school facilities. The district will continue to offer hand sanitizer in classrooms, common areas and on school buses, and high-touch areas will be cleaned daily.

If a case of COVID-19 is confirmed on a school bus, or a classroom or building, those areas will receive additional disinfecting the same day that district officials learn about the case.

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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