Current COVID-19 Guidelines in GCPS
While teaching and learning is the core business of Gwinnett County Public Schools, the health and safety of our students and staff is our key focus, particularly during the ongoing pandemic. Combatting COVID-19 requires a community effort, and everyone in the GCPS community is expected to do their part as we work to keep schools open and students learning in person. The information below reflects current practices and will be updated as changes occur.
COVID-19 Mitigation Strategies
Gwinnett County Public Schools has deployed multiple mitigation strategies, a practice called layered mitigation, to promote healthy and safe practices for our students, staff, and visitors. These strategies include:
- Requiring masks, with regular reminders about proper mask use (covering nose and mouth, fitted at sides, etc.) Masks that have an exhalation valve or vent and masks made from mesh fabrics are not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as they allow virus particles to escape and spread. As a result, these types of masks do not meet GCPS' mask requirement.
- Promoting vaccination for those who are eligible
- Physical distancing when feasible
- Continuing use of enhanced ventilation practices, including the installation and use of upgraded MERV 13 filters
- Encouraging regular handwashing and the use of hand sanitizer
- Promoting proper respiratory etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes, disposing of tissues, etc.)
- Emphasizing the need for individuals to stay home if they are sick, have been exposed to a known case, or are being tested for COVID
- Continuing the Health Response Teams (HRT) process that was used this past year to identify close contacts and report positive cases
- Following health department guidance regarding isolation and quarantine
- Continuing with cleaning and disinfection practices in schools and on buses, focusing on high-touch areas
GCPS will continue to review guidance from local and state health partners, the CDC, and the Georgia Department of Education, using this guidance to inform decision-making about additional or updated mitigation strategies that might be needed for the 2021–22 school year.
Monitoring the health of their children is an important role that families play in limiting the spread of COVID-19. Ask these four questions every day before your child leaves for school:
1. Does your student have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher?
2. Does your student display any other symptoms or signs of illness?
3. While away from school, was your student in close contact—within 6 feet for 15 minutes, with or without a mask— of someone with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 (lab or diagnosis) in the last two weeks, or someone getting a test or waiting for test results?
4. Is your child getting a test or waiting for results?
If the answer is YES to any of these questions, DO NOT SEND YOUR STUDENT TO SCHOOL. Instead, call the school to report your student’s illness or possible exposure. You will be advised to isolate your sick child from others and seek medical care and testing if appropriate. Self-quarantine will be advised for anyone who has been exposed to COVID-19 but has no symptoms.
Isolation and Quarantine
Students, faculty, and staff who test positive for COVID-19 (or who are noted as probable cases) will be expected to isolate at home to prevent the spread of illness as recommended by the Department of Public Health (DPH) guidance.
GCPS follows DPH and CDC guidance for quarantine of individuals exposed to someone with COVID-19 both in-school and out-of-school.
- Following the most updated guidelines from the CDC, fully vaccinated individuals and those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the 90 days prior to an exposure are not required to quarantine following exposure to a positive COVID-19 and can continue to attend school as long as they are not experiencing any symptoms.
- Unvaccinated students who are wearing a mask are not required to quarantine following an exposure at school to an individual who is positive for or suspected of having COVID-19 who is also wearing a mask during the time of exposure
- Unvaccinated students, where the contact or the case or both are not wearing masks during the time of exposure, can continue to attend school under a modified quarantine as long as they are able to wear a mask for the majority of the day while they are at school and are not experiencing any symptoms. Those students who are not able to wear a mask at school due to medical reasons will be required to quarantine at home.
- Any unvaccinated individuals identified as a close contact to a confirmed or probable case outside of the school setting is required to quarantine, due to regular unmasked exposure. This means that siblings of positive students are considered to be out-of-school exposures. Therefore, they must quarantine at home following DPH guidance.
Click here for more about Preventing Quarantines: Preventing Quarantines
Health Response Teams
Each school has a Health Response Team (HRT) whose members have been trained, based on health department and CDC guidance, to manage cases and close contacts of cases of COVID-19 in schools and other GCPS facilities. Members of the HRT enter information about positive cases into the district’s secure tracking tool. This information is reported to the Gwinnett County Health Department as required.
Gwinnett County Public Schools strongly encourages all eligible students, faculty, and staff to get fully vaccinated in order to protect themselves and the community. Individuals ages 12 and older are eligible to receive COVID vaccinations at this time.
Health experts indicate vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention to end the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 vaccines are effective at helping to protect against severe disease and death from variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, including the Delta variant.
Beginning in early 2021, when the COVID vaccine became available, Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) has encouraged staff members and eligible community members and students to get vaccinated. Working with the Gwinnett-Newton-Rockdale Health Department and other providers like Northside Gwinnett and Walmart, the school district has encouraged citizens to learn more about vaccinations and shared information about numerous vaccination opportunities with staff and families. Why is the district focused on this strategy? Vaccination has proven to be an important part of the district’s layered mitigation efforts to limit the spread of the virus as vaccinated individuals are less likely to become ill and less likely to infect others. This is important to GCPS’ overall goal of keeping schools open and students learning in person.
As part of its emphasis on vaccinations, GCPS has hosted and continues to partner with the health department to schedule vaccination clinics in our school communities and offers a $500 vaccination incentive to full-time, benefits-eligible employees, SPUR cafeteria staff, SLP staff, retirees who are currently working and substitutes who have worked 45 days.
Please check with the Gwinnett Health Department or other health provider to learn more about the vaccination and where you may go to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
COVID Reporting and Communication
With 97% of GCPS students attending class in person, GCPS wants to be sure families know where to find information about COVID-19 cases in the school district.
To keep parents and employees informed, GCPS provides information every school day about the number of students and staff affected by COVID in each school building/location. In addition to the report (PDF) that has been updated daily since last year, GCPS has launched a new COVID-19 Dashboard. The new dashboard provides a user-friendly, visually appealing way for our community to review the information. Both the report and the dashboard reflect details about current conditions in our schools. In accordance with federal law, no information is disclosed on either report that would lead to the identification of any individual represented in the numbers shown on the report.
GCPS to Pilot COVID Testing
Schools in the Norcross Cluster will pilot a COVID-19 testing program this fall. Routine COVID-19 testing (also called surveillance testing) can quickly detect individuals who are positive with COVID-19 and trace contacts who should quarantine. Acting as an “early warning system,” the testing program will help lower the risk of transmission in schools so that in-person instruction can continue without interruption.
Participation in the pilot is voluntary. Families must opt in to the program, which will include weekly testing for participating students and staff. Student-athletes will be tested twice weekly. The free testing, which is self-administered with a nasal swab, is quick and easy, and is not painful or invasive.
Rapid antigen tests provide results in 15 minutes. Should a student or staff member test positive while at school, the school's Health Response Team would act quickly to isolate the positive individual.
“The COVID-19 testing pilot in the Norcross Cluster will serve as a proactive step in slowing the spread in our schools and communities, allowing GCPS to continue providing in-person instruction during the pandemic,” says Dr. Al Taylor, associate superintendent for School Improvement and Operations.
District leaders plan to review data from the pilot with an eye to expanding the voluntary opportunity throughout the district.
GCPS custodians follow established protocols to clean, sanitize, and disinfect buildings, and high-touch surfaces and objects, including tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, toilets, sinks, and handrails. In the classroom, students and staff have access to hand sanitizer, and supplies are available for staff members to clean and sanitize surfaces as needed.
Over the past year, GCPS has upgraded ventilation systems. Air filters are a higher MERV-13 grade and are changed out quarterly. We’ve increased the run time of HVAC equipment in our buildings, per CDC and ASHRAE recommendations. Automated systems have been modified to override sensors so that HVAC systems can run, regardless of room occupancy. GCPS continues with school HVAC replacements using ionization equipment. These steps are helping to minimize the potential airborne transmission of the virus in our buildings.
Bus drivers also follow a cleaning regimen at the end of their morning routes and again at the end of the day.
In addition, Health Response Teams identify and rapidly respond to COVID-19 reports within our schools and facilities.
For the 2021-22 school year, all students will receive breakfast and lunch at no charge, based on USDA waivers. While meals will be provided at no charge for all students this school year, families whose students would be eligible for meal support in a typical year should complete the free/reduced-price meal application as soon as possible. Confirmed eligibility for free/reduced-price meals ensures access to many benefits beyond school meals (free SAT/ACT, free college applications, free/reduced internet, additional technology and resources for schools, etc.) Click here for information regarding the Free and Reduced Meal Application Benefits… it provides more than just a meal.
Cafeterias are open and students and are using the serving lines and selecting their meal items.
- Menu items are similar to offerings provided in the cafeteria in the past. However, GCPS school cafés are feeling the pinch due to disruptions to the nation’s supply chain. As a result, GCPS’ menu offerings vary from school to school, and may not reflect the planned menu as School Nutrition Program (SNP) staff work with available resources.
- Schools have established precautionary practices in place to minimize risks.
- Some food items are wrapped and packaged to avoid direct contact with food items.
- Students may eat meals in the cafeteria.
Information about meal pick-ups for digital learners has been communicated by each school. (Meals will are provided to GCPS students only.)
Athletics and Extracurricular Activities
Gwinnett County Public Schools is currently offering athletics and extracurricular activities for the 2021-22 school year. Plans are that events will be open to spectators at full capacity per Georgia High School Association guidance.
- GCPS has established reasonable and precautionary practices for transporting students to and from school.
- Buses are operating at maximum capacity as usual. Physical distancing is not possible on school buses.
- Buses are cleaned/disinfected at the end of the morning and afternoon routes.
Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being
Our students’ and staff members’ mental and emotional health matters. Caring for our students’ overall well-being is essential as they face the challenges associated with learning during the pandemic, the current social climate, the ongoing effects of COVID-19, and all that comes with everyday life. If a student is dealing with the effects of having COVID-19, grieving the loss of someone they love to coronavirus, or just feeling isolated, our school counselors can help.
Staff members also have access to support through MetLife and LifeWorks, a national company that employs more than 30,000 licensed counselors. In addition to complimentary webinars, GCPS employees can connect by phone or video chat for counseling sessions. If an employee needs information about this benefit, he/she can email the Benefits Administration Team at email@example.com.
As families plan travel for upcoming breaks, it’s important to know that GCPS follows CDC guidelines when it comes to international travel. The CDC recommends that unvaccinated travelers (including children) get tested for COVID-19 within 3 to 5 days after returning AND self-quarantine at home for a full 7 days after travel. Vaccinated travelers and those who have recently recovered from COVID (within the last three months) are not required to quarantine, but should monitor for symptoms for 14 days after travel.
Device and Internet Access
Access to both devices and reliable internet is critical to our students’ learning and helps to ensure educational equity as more students engage with digital learning resources.
Schools use established processes for addressing our students’ needs for devices and internet access and distribute devices and hotspots accordingly.
Families should note that devices issued to students must be returned to the school on the specified date the school determines. Per district policy and procedures, and the agreement noted in the Student/Parent Handbook, fines may be assessed to the family if the device checked out is returned damaged or is not returned.
Families should contact their local school for additional information if their student(s) need assistance with devices and/or reliable internet service. For middle and high school digital students concurrently enrolled at Gwinnett Online Campus, the home school will coordinate device and hotspot distribution.