Back To School
Will Your Kid Be Required To Wear A Mask In School This Year?
A state-by-state look at 2021-22 mask guidelines for schools across the U.S.
Between distance learning, hybrid schedules, and a return to in-person classes, if there’s one thing kids have become accustomed to in the past year, it’s being flexible — and wearing masks. And after a summer of relaxed Covid-19 health and safety protocols, now they might have to continue wearing face coverings during the upcoming school year. In a reversal of its previous recommendation, on July 27 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that fully vaccinated adults and kids should wear masks indoors. The news will likely change policies in some states and schools across the country who have spent the summer trying to create new health and safety protocols in advance of the 2021-22 school year.
The Pro Mask Argument
“We know masks work,” says Dr. Elizabeth Mack, division director of pediatric critical care and professor of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina. Throughout this past year, Dr. Mack has seen how well masks have mitigated the spread of coronavirus in children when applied in conjunction with good hygiene and social distancing. So her argument is, why stop masking now?
The latest CDC recommendation backs her up. On July 27, the CDC reversed its more relaxed policy (which supported maskless learning indoors for fully vaccinated students) announcing that it now recommends all teachers, staff, students, and visitors in K-12 schools to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
“There's no scientific evidence to suggest that the masking is damaging kids in any way,” she says. “There's actually a bunch of exercise tolerant studies that have examined whether it’s unhealthy to exercise in a mask. Certainly subjectively, it's harder to climb the stairs. It's harder to walk on a treadmill, that kind of thing. But it's not damaging.”
And, Dr. Mack also likes to point out the fact that children suffering from pediatric cancer have been masked for their whole course of therapy. “We like to forget that. We’ve been seeing masked kids for a long time and they do just fine with it. Masking kids is not new to child healthcare.”
The CDC backs her up. In the fall of 2020 in the midst of high community transmission of coronavirus, a study of 11 school districts in North Carolina found that minimal school-related transmission took place thanks to strictly adhered prevention strategies, including universal mask use and physical distancing and that the few outbreaks could be attributed to breaches in mask use.
The Argument For Dropping Masks
For anti-mask proponents the argument is less about science and more about parents knowing what’s best. Such is the case in Iowa where the Gov. Kim Reynolds said on Twitter that her state was "putting parents back in control of their child's education and protecting the rights of all Iowans to make their own health care decisions."
In North Carolina five days after the Biden administration told fully vaccinated Americans that they could shed their masks, parents staged a protest outside of Gov. Roy Cooper’s headquarters in May chanting “let them breathe,” The News & Observer reports.
In June, a similar outcry took place in Washington state. In the town of Enumclaw, on June 19, a group of parents protested the Washington State Department of Health’s student mask requirement, according to Komo News. “Schools must use this guidance regardless of the county or phase they are in of Governor Inslee’s Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery plan,” the state’s Department of Health guidance states.
States that will not require masks in schools in fall 2021
Some state governors have been firm in their opposition to continuing masks in schools next year. Here are the states that have enacted legislation regarding mask mandates.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced in April that masks were no longer mandatory for students and staff at Arizona public schools, AZFamily.com reports. On Sept. 27, an Arizona judge ruled that law unconstitutional. Now schools are at liberty to require students, staff and visitors to wear masks on campus, according to NPR.
On May 19, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a rule that makes it illegal to require masks in schools, according to Iowa Public Radio. That said, masks are required on school buses, according to We Are Iowa.
South Carolina schools cannot mandate masks due to a budget proviso passed earlier this year by the General Assembly, The State newspaper reports. Governor Henry McMaster has said kids “can’t learn” wearing masks, according to a Fox News interview. However, districts are fighting back. In Charleston, the County School Board just passed a vote to require masks at school, per The Charleston City Paper.
No masks will be required in Texas schools per Gov. Greg Abbott’s June 5 announcement, according to the Texas Tribune. However, in defiance of this rule, Dallas school leaders say students and staff will be required to wear masks, according to The Washington Post. President Biden has also told the Education Department to take action against governors who have banned universal masking, reports The Washington Post.
Gov. Spencer Cox has promised constituents that face coverings will not be required in schools next year, the Salt Lake Times Tribune reports.
States that will require masks to be worn at school in fall 2021
Some states have announced official rules for mask requirements. Here’s what states are included in that group.
Though mask mandates are illegal in Arkansas, 60 public schools are now requiring masks following a judge’s ruling preventing the state from enforcing a law banning schools from requiring masks, according to US News. Gov. Doug Ducey has threatened to withhold funding from districts that defy him, The Washington Post reports.
California has announced that it will continue requiring masks in schools, according to The New York Times. The choice contradicts the CDC’s new relaxed guidance which says children who have been vaccinated may go maskless.
Per a new executive order from the Governor, “Mask-wearing is required – regardless of vaccination status – in health care facilities, facilities housing vulnerable populations, public and private transit, correctional facilities, schools and child care centers,” per a Connecticut Health Team report.
Effective August 16, Gov. John Carney has announced a new statewide mask mandate for all K-12 schools, according to Delaware.gov.
Hawaii has a statewide mask mandate. The state Education Department released new guidelines for reopening schools this fall which includes a call for mask wearing, according to Hawaii Now.
Due to the virus surge, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has reinstituted a mask mandate in K-12 Kentucky schools, “regardless of vaccination status for COVID-19,” AP reports.
Illinois requires all students to wear masks in K-12 public schools according to NBC’s Today.
As of August 2, Gov. John Bel Edwards has renewed an indoor mask mandate which now includes k-12 schools, according to The Office of the Governor website. The new mandate is in effect until September 1.
A 9-1 vote Tuesday on August 24 by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has turned the tide on masking in Massachusetts. Now K-12 school students will be required to mask up through October 1, according to WBUR.
Governor Phil Murphy has announced a statewide school mask mandate, according to The Office of the Governor. This applies to all students, educators, staff, and visitors for the academic year.
Due to a surge in Covid-19 cases, the state has shifted to a universal mask mandate for all K-12 public schools, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department website.
The new New York state Governor Kathy Hochul has declared that masks will be required for students and staff at all public schools, according to Yahoo! News.
On August 31, Gov. Tom Wolf mandated a new mask policy for K-12 schools and child care centers, the Post-Gazette reports. The new rule will take effect September 7.
As of now, Vermont students will still be required to wear masks in schools regardless of vaccination status, according to the Burlington Free Press.
Washington state’s Department of Health has been very clear in its rules for next year: “Universal and correct use of cloth face coverings or masks helps prevent the spread of Covid-19 and is required for all school personnel, students, and visitors.”
States where schools have local authority on mask rules
Other states are moving more cautiously or handing over the power to determine face covering protocols to school districts. Here’s what’s going on in states that have yet to announce next year’s mask policies or have put it into the hands of individual school districts.
Alabama lifted its statewide mask mandate in April, making each individual Local Education Agency responsible for mask rules moving forward, WSFA reports.
Alaska has no state-wide school mask mandate. Mask rules are at the discretion of individual school districts.
In Colorado students who have received a vaccine do not have to wear masks. The current Department of Health and the Environment regulations for the state say: “The order requires people in Colorado who are 11 years and older to wear a mask over their noses and mouths... Preschool through grade 12 schools (including extracurricular activities) and child care centers and services; however, fully vaccinated individuals, including vaccinated children ages 16-18, in a classroom, cohort, or other group of children may remove masks where the teacher(s), caregiver(s), or other staff whose primary responsibility is education or childcare have provided proof of fully completed vaccination to their employer.”
On April 15, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced that schools cannot have mandatory mask rules next year, according to the Herald-Tribune. Ten Florida counties, however, are defying the mask mandate ban, Forbes reports. On August 31, a Florida court sided with parents saying districts could institute mask mandates, the New York Times reports.
In defiance of Gov. Brain Kemp’s vow to not impose a statewide mask mandate, the city of Atlanta and many Georgia school districts have announced they will implement masks in schools next year, the AP reports.
On May 21, Gov. Brad Little issued an executive order saying he opposed mandates but that the state should not usurp the authority of local school boards to require masks.
Jurisdictions for mask protocols are at the direction of individual school districts, according to WFYI.
In Kansas, mask policies are at the discretion of individual districts, Fox4KC reports.
School districts in Maine are allowed to make their own masking protocols for the 2021-22 school year, according to US News.
Maryland ended its mask mandate on May 15. Maryland State Board of Education is working to mandate masks, the Washington Post reports. This emergency shift must be approved by the state’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review to go into effect.
As of July 1, Michigan will no longer have a statewide indoor mask mandate, however, school districts can still make their mask rules.
Mask policies are up to individual school districts in Minnesota, according to Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
Without statewide orders, Mississippi schools will set their own mask policies next school year, Mississippi Today reports.
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte issued a rule in late August encouraging schools to give parents final say on whether children should wear masks in schools, US News reports. The rule requires schools to consider “parental concerns” and allows them to opt out of mask mandates that are at the discretion of individual districts.
Gov. Pete Ricketts opposes mandating a new mask policy for schools, WOWT.com reports. For now, masking policies will be at school districts’ discretion.
Nevada dropped its mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals following federal guidance in May, according to the Review Journal. Individual school districts will make their own face covering policies for the 2021-22 year.
There is no longer a state mask mandate in New Hampshire. Mask regulations are subject to school district rules.
North Carolina school mask policies are at the local level, according to The News & Observer. However, schools are also required to vote on mask policies on a monthly basis due to a new law the Governor signed at the beginning of September, Spectrum Local News reports.
The Governor’s mask mandate was allowed to expire, reports KFYR TV, making individual school districts responsible for mask rules moving forward.
Gov. Mike DeWine announced in May that schools can make their own mask policies starting June 2, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.
Oklahoma’s new law makes masking optional and states: “A board of education of a public school district or a technology center school district may only implement a mandate to wear a mask or any other medical device after consultation with the local county health department or city-county health department within the jurisdiction of where the board is located and when the jurisdiction of where the board is located is under a current state of emergency declared by the Governor,” KOCO News5 reports.
Kerry Delf, Chief of Staff of Eugene School District 4J tells Romper that school districts will determine local protocols. “ It is not up to individual staff, students and families,” she says.
Rhode Island will not require masks for teachers and students who are fully vaccinated, WPRI reports. That choice can be made at the school level.
The state of South Dakota has no statewide mask mandate. Continuing mask requirements will be up to individual school districts, KELO News reports.
Tennessee has no statewide mask mandate. Some schools, including Montgomery County, have already rescinded mask requirements for summer school, reports Clarksville Now, but mask rules remain on a case by case mandate per individual districts.
On May 14, Gov. Ralph Northam lifted Virginia's universal indoor mask mandate.Based on Virginia Departments of Health and Education recommendations, school divisions will have “the ability to implement local mask policies based on community level conditions and public health recommendations.”
On June 24, Governor Jim Justice and the West Virginia Department of Education lifted all mask mandates. On August 4,Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch changed course and announced that mask requirements will be up to each individual county in West Virginia, WTRF reports.
Wisconsin’s Department of Health and Services has recommended the continued use of masks in schools. However, the decision is up to individual school districts as the state does not have a mask mandate.
Gov. Mark Gordon lifted Wyoming’s statewide mask requirement on March 16. By April 9, 10 of Wyoming’s 48 school districts had lifted mask requirements, the Star Tribune reported. Districts will determine face covering requirements for 2021-22.
There is no one answer to the question “will kids wear masks next year?” The best way to find out and ensure your child is in compliance is to reach out to your local school district or school to get the latest information regarding face covering requirements for 2021-22.
This post will be updated as new information becomes available.
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