Tense confrontations, yelling and accusations of spitting were seen Thursday as parents gathered for a protest over mask mandates at a school district office near Atlanta.
The protests come a day after fifth graders at East Side Elementary in Cobb County were sent home because of high numbers of Covid-19 cases, according to a school district email sent to parents and obtained by CNN.
Protesters shouted chants over one another.
“You are not my kid’s parent, no more mandates,” one person shouted. “No more masks, these are my kids, not yours.”
Parents also chanted “Mandate masks,” “Protect our kids,” “Educate the ignorant” and “No more masks.” Signs read “My child, my choice,” “Why hide this cute face?” and “I love all children so we mask up to save them.”
At one point, two people – a masked man and unmasked woman – got into a yelling match. The woman accused the man of spitting on her and the man accused the woman of hitting him in the mouth.
Masks are optional for students and school staff in Cobb County, according to the district’s website, but guidance calls for social distancing in classrooms when possible.
The protest and clashes in Cobb County are just one example illustrating the debate across the country with parents at odds with government officials over requiring students and teachers to wear masks.
How schools should handle Covid-19 protocols has been a divisive issue across the country. School districts, parents, health departments and state officials are grappling with how to return students to classrooms safely at a time when the Delta variant is driving a surge in cases across the country and younger students are still unable to be vaccinated.
Other Atlanta-area school districts – in Gwinnett County, Fulton County and the city of Atlanta – require masks for students and staff.
The disconnect among parents, health officials and school districts in Georgia is further complicated because Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order preventing schools from using the state’s public health emergency as a basis for mask mandates, and declining to issue state guidance, saying the decision should be left up to parents.
CNN’s Amara Walker reported from Marietta and Amir Vera wrote and reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Shawn Nottingham contributed to this report.