Delta dilemma: Why 2 more states are seeing showdowns over school masking

Here's where big districts and state officials are clashing over mask mandates right now
By: | August 2, 2021

With COVID cases setting records in the state, Florida schools administrators risk a loss of state funding if they violate a newly enacted ban on mask mandates.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said requiring students to wear masks “lacks a well-grounded scientific justification” in an executive order that prohibits school COVID safety protocols from violating Floridians’ constitutional freedoms or parents’ right to make health care decisions for their children.

“Masking children may lead to negative health and societal ramifications,” DeSantis said in the order signed late Friday. “Forcing children to wear masks could inhibit breathing, lead to the collection of dangerous impurities including bacteria, parasites, fungi, and other contaminants, and adversely affect communications in the classroom and student performance.”

Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Diana L. Greene had intended to require masks for everyone in her district but, to accommodate DeSantis’ executive order, limited the mandate to staff only for the first 30 days of school, News4Jax.com reported. “While I cannot require the wearing of masks, we will continue to strongly encourage students to wear facial coverings when indoors,” Greene wrote in an email obtained by News4Jax.com. “We will also do all that we can to support students and families with access to vaccines until the rate of COVID-19 transmission in our community is at a safe level.”

Earlier last week, Broward County Public Schools, one of the nation’s largest districts, announced that students, staff and visitors would be required to wear face coverings and practice social distancing when classes start on Aug. 18.

The CDC recommended last week that all staff and students wear masks, regardless of age or vaccination status. But along with Florida, Arizona has emerged as a flashpoint where big districts are defying state bans on mask mandates.


School mask tracker: Who is and isn’t loosening the rules


Earlier this summer, legislators banned masked mandates. But last week, the Phoenix Union High School District said everyone must wear masks indoors as all 32 zip codes covered by the system are seeing high or substantial spread of the delta variant.

“We have heard from our staff, students, and families that they want us to realign our mitigation practices with the guidelines and recommendations of national and local health agencies,” the district said on its website.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey called the mandate “unenforceable.” “Arizona is not anti-mask, we’re anti-mask mandate,” Ducey said. according to azcentral.com. said. “As the governor has often said, mask usage is up to parents. If a parent wants their child to wear a mask at school, they are free to do so.”

Masks mandated, or strongly encouraged

Many districts in the Washington, D.C. area have mandates masks for the coming school year. In Maryland, Prince George County Public Schools Superintendent Monica Goldson also announced a mask mandate. About half of the district’s eligible students have been vaccinated, Goldson tweeted.

In Virginia, Arlington Public Schools and Frederick County Public Schools have also required masks. “Universal masks are part of a layered approach to help our schools stay open and safe, and to ensure all students can safely return to our buildings, especially when physical distancing is not possible at all times and not all our students are eligible yet for vaccinations,” Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán said on the district’s website.

Several states are strongly required masking in schools but not implementing mandates. In Massachusetts, health and education officials have strongly recommended masks indoors for all students in kindergarten through grade 6 and for unvaccinated students in grades 7 and above.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has also encouraged schools to require face masks for unvaccinated children and adults, The Gazette reported.