Why even some once defiant school leaders are now loosening mask rules

A few Florida districts that faced their governor's fines and threats are easing their requirements as COVID ebbs
By: | October 19, 2021

Waves of districts are ending their mask mandates even as some administrators elsewhere impose them for the first time this school year because of ongoing COVID outbreaks.

Several districts in Michigan, for example, have imposed mandates in recent weeks. The Clintondale Community School District mandated masks on Oct. 18, Lakeshore Public Schools did so on Oct. 11, and the Carney-Nadeau Public School instituted a mask mandate on Sept. 27 after reopening from a week-long closure.

And Kalamazoo Public Schools plans to keep its mask mandates in place through its second trimester, which runs from Nov. 29 to March 11, WWMT.com reported.

But in Florida, where administrators were fined and threatened by the DeSantis administration over mask mandates, even some of the districts that had long defied the governor are beginning to ease their requirements.

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

As of Tuesday, Leon County Schools began allowing parents of students in pre-K through 12 to submit a form to opt-out of its mask mandate. Starting Wednesday, high school students in Alachua County Schools can request mask exemptions.

Districts all across the South are going farther, making masks optional for all students. As of Oct. 13, the Chickasaw County School District in Mississippi said masks were “very highly recommended,” and informed parents that students wearing masks are far less likely to be quarantined due to exposure.

Masks made a difference

COVID cases increased by 5% in U.S. counties that opened K–12 schools with in-person learning. However, those rates were even higher when masks were not mandated for staff at school, a new study has found.

“This decision is in response to significantly lower levels of positive students and quarantined students in the district over the previous two weeks,” the district said on Facebook.

Also in Mississippi, Tupelo Public Schools made masks optional as of Oct. 13 when quarantined and positive case percentages in the school district had stayed below 2% for the previous two weeks.

In Kentucky’s Metcalfe County Schools, masks became recommended as of Monday due to declining cases. Administrators will review the COVID rates weekly to determine whether to keep masks optional.

“We’re going to continue to try to keep people distanced as best as we can and we’re going to continue to encourage people to wash their hands and do the things that will hopefully prevent us from having that incident rate go back up,” Superintendent Josh Hurt said in a video on the district’s website.

In Ohio, the Crestview Local School District’s mask mandate expired on Oct. 18. However, administrators reaffirmed the benefits of masking in a letter to the community on Friday. They said on two students who had been wearing masks had been quarantined in the three weeks during which masks were mandated.

“We do want to remind everyone that masking in schools is currently recommended by the Ohio Department of Health, the CDC, and the American Academy of Pediatrics,” they wrote. “We also know that masking and vaccination divide us. Now the choice is back on our parents.”

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