Good news, bad news? Majority supports masks in schools as COVID closures climb

Maine, Michigan and Pennsylvania have been hit particularly hard during the latest wave of closures
By: | November 16, 2021
Some 61% of the public approves of requiring students, teachers, and staff to wear face masks, and 59% support vaccine mandates for teachers and staff, according to a Monmouth University poll.Some 61% of the public approves of requiring students, teachers and staff to wear face masks, and 59% support vaccine mandates for teachers and staff, according to a Monmouth University poll.

Another poll has found majority support for mask and vaccine mandates at a time when school closures are once again climbing as COVID cases creep back up various parts of the country.

Some 61% of the public approves of requiring students, teachers and staff to wear face masks and 59% support vaccine mandates for teachers and staff, according to a Monmouth University poll. Both numbers decreased slightly from a poll conducted in September.

Still,  53% backed vaccine mandates for students age 12 and older, though only 34% of parents supported mandates for 5- to 11-year-olds.

“The dramatic images of parents protesting at school board meetings has not shifted overall public opinion on mandates one way or the other since the beginning of the school year,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Indeed, most Americans—including more than two-thirds of Republicans—approve of how local school leaders are managing health and safety with other priorities, according to an Axios/Ipsos survey released last week. “A lot of the energy, the criticism that’s been happening, is not coming from a large chunk of the population,” Ipsos Senior Vice President Chris Jackson said. “It’s very much a tail-wagging-the-dog scenario.”

In fact, fewer than one in 10 of the parents surveyed said schools have done a “very poor job.”

Where COVID closures are climbing again

Now for the bad news: COVID is on the rise again in several northern and western states, leading to a growing wave of school closures as the holidays approach, with the potential for greater spread at family gatherings and from travel.

Here’s a sample of just a few headlines from the last week:

After shrinking dramatically in the early fall, District Administration’s running list of school closures has been growing again in the last two weeks.

Maine, Michigan and Pennsylvania are three states that have been hit particularly hard during the latest wave of closures.

Maine:

  • Maine School Administrative School District No. 20, in Fort Fairfield on the Canadian border, is on remote learning until Nov. 22 “due to the inability to provide adequate substitutes for the absences of essential employees and the number of confirmed positive COVID cases,” Superintendent Timothy L. Doak said.
  • Mast Landing School in Maine’s Regional School Unit 5 has moved to remote learning until Nov. 22 because “It has not been a good week for COVID in RSU 5,” Superintendent Becky Foley said on the district’s website.
  • Gardiner Regional Middle School in Maine School Administrative District No. 11 was closed Nov. 15 due to “a shortage of staff, numerous positive COVID-19 cases of both students and staff, and a quarter of the student body being identified as close contacts,” Superintendent Patricia Hopkins announced.
  • Winthrop Public Schools has made Nov. 22 and 23 remote learning days to “allow our schools to be ‘student-free’ for nine days to address the increase in COVID cases and to permit our staff planning and processing time,” the district says on its website.

Michigan:

  • Potterville Public Schools announced it will move to remote learning through Nov. 29 and Charlotte Upper Elementary School will be remote until at least Nov. 23, according to the Lansing State JournalPennfield Schools has shifted all students to remote learning until Nov. 22.

Pennsylvania:

  • Wattsburg Area School District has moved all its schools to virtual learning until Nov. 30. “Our schools are experiencing pandemic-related staffing shortages along with a rise in positive COVID-19 cases in the student population,” the district said on its website.
  • Fort LeBoeuf School District has closed Waterford and Robison elementary schools to in-person learning through Nov. 29, GoErie.com reported.

Elsewhere, Morristown High School, in New Jersey’s Morris School District, has shifted to remote learning until Nov. 22 and canceled all curricular activities, due to rising infections and quarantines.

In the same region, in New York, Harpursville Central School has shifted to remote learning until Nov. 22 and Ellicottville Central School went remote on Nov. 15 and Nov. 16.

On the West Coast, South Fork High School in Southern Humboldt USD in Northern California is closed until Nov. 22 and will return to in-person instruction on Nov. 29.

And down south, Alabama has seen its first COVID closure in weeks. Muscle Shoals Middle School has moved all 6th-graders to virtual learning until Nov. 22, WAFF.com reported.

Masks on, masks off

Despite—or perhaps because of—the COVID case rollercoaster, districts in parts of the country are dropping school mask mandates as many administrators in other states are keeping requirements in place or implementing new ones.

In Michigan, where cases and school closures are once again rising, the Genesee County Health Department announced masks will become optional on Dec. 22 in classrooms where there are no students younger than 5 years old.

But in the same state, Jackson Public Schools on Nov. 9 reinstated its mask mandate until further notice due to an increase in COVID infections, and Coloma Community Schools has mandated masks until Dec. 12.

In New York, the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents has asked Gov. Kathy Hochul to set parameters for dropping school masks mandates, LoHud.com reported.

But in North Carolina, New Hanover County Schools is keeping its mandate in place, WECT.com reported. In the same state, Burke County Public Schools and Gaston County Public Schools have made masks optional.

Bladen County Schools made masks optional for a month, starting on Nov. 8. Guilford County Schools has extended its mask mandate until Dec. 14. But Iredell-Statesville Schools, near Charlotte, made masks optional on Nov. 8, WSOCTV.com reported.