How many schools will get behind masks after CDC’s shift on COVID risk?

More districts are making an online option available to their students in response to roller coaster pandemic
By: | July 28, 2021
Rising COVID rates, the unavailability of vaccines for younger students and vaccine hesitancy led the American Academy of Pediatrics' recent call for universal masking in schools.Rising COVID rates, the unavailability of vaccines for younger students and vaccine hesitancy led the American Academy of Pediatrics' recent call for universal masking in schools.

As some district leaders moved quickly to follow the CDC’s call to mandate masks this school year, officials in other states said families will choose whether students wear face coverings.

In Maryland, Montgomery County Public Schools officials required masks for all students and staff, regardless of age or vaccination status.

Rising COVID rates in the county and the nation, the unavailability of vaccines for younger students and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent call for universal masking in schools drove the decision, officials said.

Another large district in the Washington, D.C. area, Fairfax County Public Schools, has also mandated masks for all students, staff and visitors when the 2021-22 school year starts.

“To ensure a safe start to the school year, layered prevention strategies will be in place in all schools, including wearing a mask while indoors,” the district says on its website. “The two most important things you can do to help us keep each other safe this year is to get vaccinated when you are eligible and wear a mask indoors.”


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And in Georgia, where the governor declared districts could not rely on the state to mandate masks, Gwinnett County Public Schools officials said face coverings will be required when the school year starts.

“This decision takes into account current conditions, the rise in COVID-19 case rates in Gwinnett County, and the ineligibility of children age 12 and younger for the vaccine,” the district said on its website. The district will allow parents to choose online learning and keep their children home.

Many large districts, such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, had previously announced that all students and staff will have to wear masks this fall.

No more state mandates

But in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster said the state could not follow the CDC’s updated 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 on Tuesday.

“The Delta Variant poses a real threat to South Carolinians. However, shutting our state down, closing schools and mandating masks is not the answer. Personal responsibility is,” he also tweeted.

McMaster also tweeted that the vaccines work and hesitant residents should consult with their loved ones and doctors.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said the state would not impose a mask mandate on schools but is encouraging districts to follow the CDC’s updated guidance on universal masking, PennLive.com reported.

Officials in Oregon also said they had no immediate plans to require masks even as students are attending summer school in person, OregonLive.com reported.

Where online learning remains an option

While most K-12 leaders are committed to offering in-person instruction in 2021-22, more districts are making an online option available to their students.

Austin ISD in Texas announced this week that elementary school students could choose online learning for the upcoming school year. “AISD is also reassuring teachers that there will be no concurrent teaching this year. Teachers who teach virtually will only teach virtually,” the district said on its website.