A growing number of big districts mandate masks ahead of third COVID year

Administrators seek to preserve in-person instruction with masks, risking political clashes in some states
By: | July 29, 2021
(Fresno USD)(Fresno USD)

Washington state and Broward County Public Schools joined several other major school systems in reinstating masks mandates following the latest shift in CDC COVID guidance.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee required all students and staff to wear masks in school buildings after the CDC revised tightened its recommendations due to the delta variant, vaccine hesitancy and the lack of a vaccine for younger students.

“We have the tools to break the back of this COVID pandemic,” Inslee said at a press conference. “There are too many people, although they have access to a free life-saving vaccine, who have not availed themselves of that.”

The virus of “misinformation” has become just as deadly as the COVID pandemic, said Inslee, who also recognized the frustrations of fully vaccinated residents who may have to consider wearing masks again in public places.

New normal? Delta spike drives CDC’s call for another masked school year

Many parents, meanwhile, remain concerned about the threat of COVID to students under 12 who may not be able to get vaccinated until later this year, he added.

“We don’t want to see waves of this virus going through the schools, and forcing the closure of our schools,” Insee said. “Our kids need to be in the classroom this fall. ”

Political showdowns ahead

Broward County Public Schools, one of the nation’s largest districts, will also require students, staff and visitors to wear face coverings and practice social distancing when classes start on Aug. 18.

“There is no way in good conscience that I could bring anybody back into the school environment, on the bus, the cafeteria, and not have a mask mandate,” Chair Rosalind Osgood said at a Broward County School Board meeting Wednesday, according to Local10.com.

The move flies in the face of Flordia Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staunch opposition to school mask mandates. “Forcing kids to wear masks is bad policy,” DeSantis tweeted Wednesday. “Parents are best equipped to decide whether they want their kids to wear a mask in school. Neither bureaucrats in Washington nor local authorities should be able to override the decision of the parents.”

Earlier in the week, DeSantis threatened to take legislative action to bar school districts from mandating masks, WPTV.com reported.

South Carolina has also seen education and public health officials clash with a Republican governor over school masks. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, with support of the state’s superintendent of schools, urged schools on Wednesday to require masks indoors.

Gov. Henry McMaster said earlier in the week that the state could not follow the CDC’s update guidance because a new state law—which he supported—bars schools from using funds to require masks, The Associated Press reported. “State law now prohibits school administrators from requiring students to wear a mask. The General Assembly agreed with me–and that decision is now left up to the parents,” McMaster tweeted.

Keeping students in school

Baltimore County Public Schools in Maryland and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in North Carolina also quickly announced mask mandates after the CDC’s shift.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to impact our community,” Baltimore County Superintendent Dr. Darryl L. Williams said in a statement. “Universal masking is an important part of our multifaceted approach to mitigate the spread of COVID while keeping schools open for in-person learning.”

“Students need to be in schools with their teachers and peers,” Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Superintendent Tricia McManus said in a statement. “It is my goal to have as many students in school as possible, safely. I visited summer schools where all the students were wearing masks and the learning they were doing was amazing.”

In Alabama, the Birmingham, Huntsville, Bessemer and Opelika school systems are requiring masks indoors, according to U.S. News & World Report.