A rising tide of educators, doctors and others are now urging officials to help schools across the U.S. return to K-12 normal by lifting all or most COVID restrictions.
With omicron on the decline, even administrators in states where support for COVID protections have been the highest are now asking for more local control over COVID policy for the remainder of the school year.
A group of rural superintendents in New York this week urged Gov. Kathy Hochul to allow them to develop new COVID rules based on conditions in their communities, according to published reports. “One-size-fits-all” state mandates are creating challenges for a growing number of districts, Pembroke Central School District Superintendent Matthew Calderon told WHEC.com.
“We put plans into place last year that worked effectively and then the beginning of the [new] year when a couple of mandates were put on the table for us, it caused some of us to go backward,” Calderon told the station.
In a letter sent to the governor, the group of superintendents from Orleans and Genessee counties says they are best positioned to make decisions with guidance from local health officials.
— John Fisgus (@SuperFisgusOA) February 2, 2022
Last week, another group of New York superintendents from the Saratoga Springs region urged the governor to develop an “exit strategy” on the state’s two-year-old mask mandate, The Post-Star reported. “While we all understand the need for masking during high rates of transmission, providing specific metrics for when this requirement can be optional as transmission rates decrease or vaccination rates reach a certain threshold is essential to maintaining our focus on teaching and learning,” the superintendents’ letter says, according to the website.
Another group of infectious disease specialists from Harvard and Tufts universities, who agree masks were essential earlier in the pandemic, now say face coverings should become optional because in some parts of the county “children have not seen the faces of their teachers or classmates since early 2020,” the doctors wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post. “Maintaining aggressive mitigation policies, including strident mask rules, also sends children, families and staff the message that schools are not safe. This is simply not true.”
They recommended “one-way masking” in schools, a policy that allows for personal choice when it comes to face coverings and would free educators from having to police students’ adherence to mandates, the doctors said. “Our children have sacrificed a lot to protect us. Now it’s time for us to give them their childhood back,” they wrote.
In California, a group of medical professionals encouraged schools to lift all COVID restrictions. They contend that state policies have disproportionately affected children, viewing them as “vectors of disease rather than as highly valued and vulnerable members of our society,” in an article this week on SFGate.com.
Their online petition had garnered about 35,000 signatures as of Thursday morning. “California’s COVID policies have failed to evolve with the advent of highly protective and widely accessible vaccines. Our restrictive policies, which have caused considerable collateral damage throughout the pandemic, have long lost their justification as necessary for the prevention of serious illness and death,” they say in their petition.
The group, which includes a pediatrician and an epidemiologist, warned state officials that further mandates, such as requiring boosters for children, could increase mistrust of government and public health officials.
They want the state to:
- Immediately allow school children to unmask while outdoors, including during sports, by clarifying that outdoor exposures to COVID-19 are exceedingly low-risk
- Make masks optional inside schools when California’s general mask mandate expires on Feb. 15.
- End testing of asymptomatic individuals with no clear purpose given that COVID-19 is here to stay.
- Shift away from a public health response that is based on case rates to one that strictly looks at hospitalizations and deaths in a broader context.
- Commit to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis for all COVID restrictive policies to ensure that the benefit always outweighs the harm.
The state of Oregon, however, decided this week to keep its school mask mandate in place indefinitely.