Why some schools will mandate masks again for fall
Superintendents and their teams await CDC guidance on masking and other COVID safety measures for the coming school year as parents protest mandates.
Meanwhile, districts and states are taking matters into their own hands. Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services released COVID guidelines Friday that urged the wearing of masks and continued social distancing and contract tracing in schools. The agency, hoping to prevent further disruptions to in-person instruction, also pushed schools to encourage staff and eligible students to get vaccinated and to avoid large gatherings in poorly ventilated spaces.
As of Friday, 56% of Michigan residents age 12 and older had received at least their first dose of a COVID vaccine, said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the agency’s chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. “These vaccines are the reason transmission of the virus in Michigan is at the lowest point in a year,” Khaldun said in a statement. “However, as the school environment brings together large groups of individuals who may not yet be vaccinated, MDHHS is issuing this guidance to help protect Michiganders of all ages.”
Also in the upper Midwest, Milwaukee Public Schools will require students to wear masks when all of its buildings open for in-person learning in the fall, Superintendent Keith P. Posley announced in a blog on the district’s website.
Students and staff will continue to practice three feet of social distancing and all classrooms will have HEPA air filters. “COVID-19 vaccines are available for everyone age 12 and older and have been shown to be highly safe and effective,” Posley said. “We encourage you to have all members of your family over age 12 vaccinated.”
School mask tracker: Who is and isn’t loosening the rules
In North Carolina, on the other hand, the state’s House of Representatives has passed a bill—known as the Free Smiles Act—that would allow administrators to decide whether to require masks, despite Gov. Roy Cooper’s ongoing K-12 mask mandate, The News & Observer reported.
“The harm that we’re doing to our children from a mental health perspective is overwhelming,” Rep. David Willis, a Republican, said during floor debate, according to The News & Observer. “It’s time to give them the opportunity to take off the masks, to return to class as normal, and to get into a position where they can start to rebuild the confidence and the camaraderie that they’ve had with their friends, with their classmates, and with their teachers.”
And many districts in the Columbus, Ohio region have already announced masks will not be required in 2021-22, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
Columbus City Schools will not mandate masks or social distancing and will lift lunchroom and staff break room restrictions, the district announced on its website.
“We intend to safely open our schools five days a week for in-person learning for next school year,” Superintendent/CEO Dr. Talisa Dixon said. “Throughout the pandemic, we have become accustomed to changing course based on the data and guidance at hand. As we prepare for the next school year, this need to be nimble in our planning has not changed.”
Finally, in Colorado, a coalition of pediatricians and teachers unions urged Gov. Jared Polis to require unvaccinated staff and students to continue to wear masks in schools and be tested for COVID regularly.
“Non-immunized children are at a higher risk of becoming infected with each exposure and have a higher risk of severe disease if they become infected with COVID-19 now compared to in 2020 because currently circulating variants are more contagious across all age groups and more likely to cause hospitalization and severe disease,” the group wrote. “These risks must be viewed in the context of the significant disruptions that school closures bring.”