COVID outbreaks and mask mandates are interfering with first day of school

A staff shortage moves the beginning of the year back three days at Kentucky's Berea Independent School District.

Berea Independent School District in Kentucky has delayed the first day of school due to a COVID outbreak among teachers. And two large East Coast districts mandated masks on the same day the CDC loosened its K-12 guidelines last week.

But those three districts are most certainly the outliers as many in and around education are pushing for a more normal school year.

The Berea Independent School District moved the first day of school from Thursday, Aug. 18, to Monday, Aug. 22, due to a staff shortage. “Due to the rise in COVID cases across the district, we would not have all staff present during the first days of school,” Superintendent Diane Hatchett said in a message. “What you do on the first days of school with students sets the tone for the entire year. We are committed to having a smooth start.”

Berea’s surrounding county is at the “medium” transmission level, according to the CDC.

On Friday, the CDC, which has promoted the tightest precautions throughout the pandemic, said students no longer have to quarantine or social distance, and that schools could discontinue “test to stay” programs. Many districts and states followed by loosening their own guidelines, if they hadn’t loosened them already.

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On the same day, however, the School District of Philadelphia announced a mask mandate, requiring all staff and students to wear face coverings during the first 10 days of school, from Aug. 29 to Sept 9. “This is an extra precaution for everyone’s health and well-being, since increased end-of-summer social gatherings may heighten the risk of exposure to COVID-19,” district and city health officials said. “Masking may then become optional under specific circumstances.”

Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland on Monday reinstated its mask mandate “until further notice” due to the contagiousness of the BA.5 variant, the district announced.

Despite the decreasing severity of the BA.5 variant, educators and parents should not completely let their guard down, says Dr. Vandana Madhavan, director of the pediatric infectious disease division at Mass General for Children. Over the last two years, COVID has killed more children than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. “School systems really should be encouraging vaccinations and thinking about mandates,” Madhavan says. “Let’s not let the impact on children get lost in the fact that there are so many adults who have gotten severely ill.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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