Not all schools join wave of districts dropping mask rules

Several large districts in Florida ended school mask mandates this week. 
By: | June 9, 2021
(Photo: Fresno USD)(Photo: Fresno USD)

Heatwaves in the Northeast and elsewhere have allowed students to remove masks this week as more and more districts end school mask mandates for the summer and fall.

With temperatures hitting the high 80s, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who has kept school masks mandates in place, said administrators could relax mask requirements during “extreme heat.”

“School officials are empowered to relax masking among students and staff in their buildings given extreme weather conditions, and we hope they will make the right calls for their educational communities,” Murphy said during a COVID media briefing.

In response, Superintendent Vincent Smith of the Point Pleasant School District posted a one-sentence letter on the district’s website telling parents that masks mandates were gone for good “regardless of the temperature,” reported.

Several other districts in southern New Jersey also made masks optional for the rest of the year following Murphy’s announcement, The Press of Atlantic City reported.

Fewer school mask mandates remain

In North Carolina, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services said students may be wearing masks for the foreseeable future, The North State Journal reported.

Though Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest mask mandate for K-12 schools expires on June 11, the Department of Health and Human Services said COVID transmission rates need to drop further and more research is needed into COVID’s impact on children. Eventually, mask requirements could be tied to student and staff vaccination rates, according to the Journal. 

But across the country, the trend continues to shift toward states and districts easing school mask mandates as COVID cases plunge and more students get vaccinated.

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

Several large districts in Florida ended school mask mandates this week. Pinellas County Schools, which covers St. Petersburg, lifted its mandate on Tuesday after a turbulent hearing in which parents opposed to masks tied requirements to critical race theory and sex education, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

In Collier County Schools, also on Florida’s west coast, masks become optional on June 21, the Naples Daily News reported. Members of the district’s school board have also said they would vote against require students to be vaccinated

And Polk County Schools, just inland from Tampa, also lifted its mask mandate even though its new superintendent, Jeff Heid, said the district should be ready to reinstitute a mask mandate during future viral outbreaks, Fox 13 reported.

“That, at times, could constitute the closure of a classroom or even a closure of a school building,” Heid said, according to Fox 13. “We’ve never mandated masks simply because of a personal interest or a personal bias.”

The mandate in Metro-Nashville Public Schools ends on June 14, meaning they are optional for summer school, the Tennessean reported. Students will still have to wear masks on buses, in hallways and in other places where social distancing is not possible, according to the Tennessean. 

And in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on June 7 that K-12 schools can lift outdoor mask requirements for students. “The numbers show that the risk of transmission by children is extremely low, especially in this state, which has an extremely low positivity rate,” Cuomo said in a statement.

However, Superintendent Ben Halsey, of Pioneer Central School District near Buffalo, said masks are now optional inside and outside schools in his district, WKBKW-TV reported.