More districts are mandating masks to keep schools open around the holidays

Leaders of big districts in New Jersey and Philadelphia are among those requiring masks.

Rising illnesses and absent students and staff are forcing district leaders to mandate masks both this week and as a safety precaution immediately after winter break.

Masks were required indefinitely as of Dec. 20 by Passaic Public Schools Superintendent Sandra Diodonet after the New Jersey district’s community moved into the high spread level for COVID spread. The mandate will be lifted when Passaic County drops back into the moderate to low range of spread, Diodonet said.

Also in New Jersey, students, staff and visitors at the Camden City School District will have to wear masks during the first two weeks after winter break (until Jan. 17). The school system continues to experience an increase in COVID, flu and RSV cases, Superintendent Katrina T. McCombs said in a year-end message to the district. And administrators in the Clinton Township School District near Newark are encouraging parents to test students before returning after winter break and to strongly consider having children wear masks during the first two weeks of the year.

One of the biggest post-break mandates has been ordered in The School District of Philadelphia, which will also require masks during the first 10 school days of 2023. “Like the rest of the nation, we are still grappling with COVID-19 while dealing with other respiratory illnesses like the flu and RSV,” Superintendent Tony Watlington wrote in a message to the community. “Increased social gathering during the holidays may increase the risk of exposure to these illnesses. We must all be extra vigilant in doing our part to help keep ourselves and those around us safe.

Masks were found to have reduced the spread of COVID in Massachusetts schools that continued to require them after the state lifted its mandate in February 2022, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Schools that made masks optional saw an additional 44.9 COVID cases per 1,000 students and staff in the 15 weeks after the statewide requirement ended. The districts where leaders kept mandates in place had higher percentages of low-income students, students with disabilities, and English-language learners, as well as higher percentages of Black and Latinx students and staff, the study found.

“We believe that universal masking may be especially useful for mitigating effects of structural racism in schools, including potential deepening of educational inequities,” the researchers wrote.

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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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