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.
In Arkansas, NPR reports that a law will make it illegal by the end of the summer for schools or any government entity to require masks.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced in April that masks were no longer mandatory for students and staff at Arizona public schools, AZFamily.com reports. However, schools may choose to continue their own mask policies.
On April 15, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced that schools cannot have mandatory mask rules next year, according to the Herald-Tribune. That said, Broward County Public Schools plans to defy this rule and require masks according to WPTV.
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.
In March Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order proclaiming schools no longer have the authority “to rely on the Public Health State of Emergency as a basis for requiring students or workers to wear a face covering.”
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that for the 2021-22 school year, high school students and middle school students will not need to wear masks when inside school buildings per WCVB reporting. Rules for elementary students will be forthcoming this summer.
There is no mask requirement in Missouri, for schools or otherwise.
No masks will be required in Texas schools per Gov. Greg Abbott’s June 5 announcement, according to the Texas Tribune.
Gov. Spencer Cox has promised constituents that face coverings will not be required in schools next year, the Salt Lake Times Tribune reports.
On June 24, Governor Jim Justice and the West Virginia Department of Education lifted all mask mandates. Students may wear a mask if they choose, but they are not required by schools to do so, according to the Morgan Messenger.
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.
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.
According to Gov. John Carney’s May 21 State of Emergency Declaration, “All individuals aged Kindergarten and up must wear a face covering, except where doing so would inhibit that individual’s health, while in schools.” The 29th modification to his initial declaration, this guidance is likely subject to change for the next school year.
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.
“As of May 24, 2021, Maine requires masks to be worn in schools and child care settings, where people ages 5 and older must wear one while indoors. Masks are not required outdoors at these settings,” Maine.gov states. No announcements about 2021-22 school year have been made.
The largest public school district in the country has decided to continue masking students next year. That includes everyone, according to the New York Times — teachers and students alike.
Masks requirements remain unchanged in New Mexico schools. As of May 14, schools continue to require staff, teachers and students to wear masks at all times except when eating or drinking, per the Public Education Department guidance, US News reports.
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.”
While a judge in May reaffirmed a ruling that all students in public schools in Connecticut must wear masks, according to NBC Connecticut, there has yet to be any announcements made regarding the 2021-22 school year.
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.
Indiana school and education officials have not announced the 2021-22 mask policy yet, Chalkbeat Indiana reports.
In Kansas, mask policies are at the discretion of individual districts, Fox4KC reports.
On June 11, Kentucky dropped its mask mandate for schools. “School districts may, at their discretion, continue to implement appropriate mitigation strategies that align with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as they work to respond to changing local conditions,” the Department of Education has said, WFPL reports.
Louisiana ended its state mask mandate for schools on May 25, says The Advocate. However, schools are still allowed to make their own mask rules moving forward.
Maryland ended its mask mandate on May 15. Implementing mask policies is at the discretion of individual districts for 2021, WJZ13 reports.
As of July 1, Michigan will no longer have a statewide indoor mask mandate, however, school districts can still make their mask rules.
Minnesota schools have yet to make an announcement on school mask protocols next year, but an announcement is expected soon, according to KARE.
Without statewide orders, Mississippi schools will set their own mask policies next school year, Mississippi Today reports.
The Montana Office of Public Instruction superintendent has strongly recommended lifting the mask mandate for schools next year, reports NBC Montana. However, her recommendation has not been made official yet.
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.
Masks will no longer be required in school in New Jersey, according to NorthJersey.com. Districts can make their own rules
The North Carolina senate has passed a bill to allow schools to go maskless on June 23. Called the “Free the Smiles Act” the bill “would give public, private and religious K-12 governing boards “the executive authority to determine the use of face coverings and any appropriate exceptions ... during the instructional day on campus.”
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.
In Pennsylvania, “People who are fully vaccinated may choose not to wear a mask, unless a business or organization, such as a school, requires masks, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has announced, according to Pittsburgh Action News.
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.
South Carolina has no statewide mask mandate. However, state school superintendent Molly Spearman has asked schools to follow DHEC's public health guidance and continue to require masks though its at each school district’s discretion, Fox Carolina reports.
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.”
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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