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

Elected officials in several states have made mask mandates illegal, saying the decision should be left to parents
By: | August 3, 2021

Leaders in several districts have in recent days have announced that all students and staff, regardless of age or vaccination status, will be required to wear masks when the 2021-22 school year begins.

Many were following new CDC guidance issued in late that July, recommending a return universal masking in schools as the delta variant and vaccine hesitancy fueled a summer COVID spike.

When the CDC earlier in July suggested vaccinated individual could go to school without masks, officials were hoping a higher percentage of eligible students and staff would have been vaccinated.

However, mask mandates continued to split along political lines. Elected officials in several states have made mask mandates illegal, saying the decision should be left to parents.

Here’s a state-by-state roundup of what we could find out about who is—and isn’t—dropping mask requirements:

ALABAMA: Birmingham, Huntsville, Bessemer and Opelika school systems are requiring masks indoors, according to U.S. News & World Report.

ARIZONA: Earlier this summer, legislators banned masked mandates. But last week, the Phoenix Union High School District said everyone must wear masks indoors as all 32 zip codes covered by the system are seeing high or substantial spread of the delta variant.

“We have heard from our staff, students, and families that they want us to realign our mitigation practices with the guidelines and recommendations of national and local health agencies,” the district said on its website.

CALIFORNIA: California will require all students to wear masks.

That’s because school facilities cannot accommodate the CDC’s recommendation to continue three feet of social distancing with all students returning to in-person learning, California Health & Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said on the agency’s website.

COLORADO: The Department of Public Health and Environment has also encouraged schools to require face masks for unvaccinated children and adults, The Gazette reported.

FLORIDA: Florida schools administrators risk a loss of state funding if they violate a ban on mask mandates enacted on July 30. Gov. Ron DeSantis said requiring students to wear masks “lacks a well-grounded scientific justification” in an executive order that prohibits school COVID safety protocols from violating Floridians’ constitutional freedoms or parents’ right to make health care decisions for their children.

Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Diana Greene had intended to require masks for everyone in her district but, to accommodate DeSantis’ executive order, limited the mandate to staff only for the first 30 days of school, News4Jax.com reported.

GEORGIA: Though the state’s governor declared districts could not rely on the state mandate masks, Gwinnett County Public Schools officials said face coverings will be required when the school year starts. The district will allow parents to choose online learning and keep their children home.

But masks will remain a way of life in City Schools of Decatur near Atlanta. The district saw strong masking compliance among students last school year,  Superintendent Maggie Fehrman said at a town hall meeting, according to decaturish.com.

“It’s the least invasive strategy and it’s kind of a no-brainer for me,” Fehrman said, according to the website. “If we can help prevent the spread of COVID by wearing masks, and not just COVID but other airborne diseases, let’s do that, at least for the start of the school year and see how things go.”

ILLINOIS: Chicago Public Schools will require universal masking in schools.

The state of Illinois, on the other hand, announced it will follow the CDC’s new guidance and not require fully vaccinated teachers or students to wear masks in schools.

“Our goal is to protect the health of students, teachers, and staff so that in-person learning can resume as safely as possible,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “The CDC is right: vaccination is the best preventive strategy. As school board members, parents, teachers and superintendents plan for a return to in-person learning in the fall, we strongly encourage those who are not vaccinated to continue to mask.”

INDIANA: The South Bend Community School Corporation, which had previously required masks for elementary school students, has now mandated them for all staff and students, the South Bend Tribune reported.

MARYLAND: Baltimore County Public Schools has mandated masks for the beginning for the school year. ‘

“Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to impact our community,” Baltimore County Superintendent Dr. Darryl L. Williams said in a statement. “Universal masking is an important part of our multifaceted approach to mitigate the spread of COVID while keeping schools open for in-person learning.”

Montgomery County Public Schools officials required masks for all students and staff, regardless of age or vaccination status, for the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.

Prince George County Public Schools Superintendent Monica Goldson also announced a mask mandate. About half of the district’s eligible students have been vaccinated, Goldson tweeted.

MASSACHUSETTS: Health and education officials have strongly recommended masks indoors for all students in kindergarten through grade 6 and for unvaccinated students in grades 7 and above.

MICHIGAN:  Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services on June 25 released COVID guidelines Friday that urged the wearing of masks and continued social distancing and contract tracing in schools.

NEW MEXICO: Masks are required for all staff and students in elementary schools, and for unvaccinated staff and students in secondary schools.

NEW YORK: New York City public schools will require universal masking in schools. All staff are also required to get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID teting.

NORTH CAROLINA: The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education approved a universal mask mandate in late July.

NORTH DAKOTA: Mandan Public Schools now recommends but does not require masks, KX News reported.

OHIO: Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday that he will not mandate masks in schools despite the state’s health department’s strongly worded recommendations for unvaccinated students, WKYC.com reported.

OREGON: Masks will be required indoors at all public schools in the state, Gov. Kate Brown ordered on July 29. “My priority is to ensure our kids are able to safely return to full-time in-person learning this fall, five days per week and with minimal disruptions,” Brown said. “With many children still ineligible to be vaccinated, masks are an effective way to help keep our kids safe in the classroom, the learning environment we know serves them best.”

PENNSYLVANIA: Superintendent Dr. William Hite said masks will be required in the Philadelphia School District in the fall, WPVI-TV reported.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said the state would not impose a mask mandate on schools but is encouraging districts to follow the CDC’s updated guidance on universal masking, PennLive.com reported.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Gov. Henry McMaster said the state could not follow the CDC’s update guidance because a new state law, which he supported, bars schools from using funds to require masks, The Associated Press reported.

“State law now prohibits school administrators from requiring students to wear a mask. The General Assembly agreed with me–and that decision is now left up to the parents,” McMaster tweeted

SOUTH DAKOTA: Rapid City Area Schools announced the students and staff will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks when schools open for in-person instruction, five days a week in the fall, KEVN-TV reported.

TENNESSEE: The mask 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 other places where social distancing is not possible, according to the Tennessean. 

Students in Sullivan County Schools are no longer required to wear face masks anywhere on school property, WJHL.com reported.

  • In Johnson City Schools, K-4 elementary school students can take off masks when seated at their desks but have them put them back on in common areas, WJHL.com reported.
  • Campbell County Schools and Maryville City Schools are loosening requirements while several other districts in the eastern part of the state are beginning to discuss changes, 10News reported.

TEXAS: Gov. Greg Abbot issued an executive order on May 19 banning school mask mandates by executive orderThe Texas Tribune reported.

UTAH: The state’s legislature passed a mask mandate ban on May 20, the Desert News reported.

VIRGINIA:  Fairfax County Public Schools, has mandated masks for all students, staff and visitors when the 2021-22 school year starts.

Arlington Public Schools and Frederick County Public Schools have also required masks.

“Universal masks are part of a layered approach to help our schools stay open and safe, and to ensure all students can safely return to our buildings, especially when physical distancing is not possible at all times and not all our students are eligible yet for vaccinations,” Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán said on the district’s website.

WASHINGTON: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee required all students and staff to wear masks in school buildings after the CDC revised tightened its recommendations due to the delta variant, vaccine hesitancy and the lack of a vaccine for younger students.

WASHINGTON, D.C.: District of Columbia Public School will require students and staff to wear masks when its buildings reopen fully for in-person learning in 2021-22, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has announced.

WISCONSIN: 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.