As the 2020-21 school year opened, we saw little federal guidance about the Coronavirus pandemic and states stepping up to keep their residents as safe as possible. Now the situation seems somewhat reversed, at least in some states, with strong guidance and a fevered push from the federal government and states doing what they can to block those efforts.
The latest federal push was announced earlier today by US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, who called on pediatricians to incorporate Covid vaccinations into back-to-school sports physicals at school-hosted vaccination clinics. The announcement is part of a broader “return to school road map” aimed at easing fears among educators over the recent surge in cases resulting from the Delta variant.
The US Covid surge continues, but hospitalizations are increasing far faster here than they ever did during the UK's surge. With so many unvaccinated Americans, our surge will be MUCH deadlier. pic.twitter.com/JNncv5GL25
— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrTomFrieden) August 3, 2021
But not everyone wants to keep kids, who admittedly don’t usually become as seriously ill from coronavirus as older adults or those with certain medical conditions, from spreading the virus when they get back home.
Gov Ron DeSantis, Republican of Florida, told schools he would withhold some federal funding from any district that imposed a mask mandate for students or staff, saying such mandates infringe on “the fundamental right of parents to make health and educational decisions for their children. … We have a lot of push from the CDC and others to make every single person, kids and staff, have to wear masks all day,” The New York Times quoted him as saying. “That would be a huge mistake.”
Four districts in the state are planning to impose mask mandates anyway: Broward, Leon, Duval, and Alachua counties.
Prince George’s County Public Schools, Maryland’s second-largest school district, also plans to require students and staff to wear masks inside school buildings this fall, The Washington Post reported, despite steady pronouncements from Republican Gov Larry Hogan that he does not wish to order another statewide mask mandate.
Officially the state has “strongly recommended” that all unvaccinated students, which includes all those under 12 as well as any over 12 who elected not to be vaccinated, wear masks during in-person instruction.
Illinois Gov JB Pritzker, a Democrat, has ordered that schools mandate the wearing of masks inside school buildings, according to The Daily Herald. Many districts have updated their policies to comply with the governor’s order, but others are still evaluating whether they will mandate masks in their buildings.
The debate has led to a hodgepodge of mask policies in districts across the country, as well as lawsuits from both sides.
Schools in the Central Bucks (County) School District in Pennsylvania, for example, are keeping the mask mandate as an open agenda item at board meetings going forward, The Bucks County Courier Times reports.
That’s because parents on both sides are refusing to back down. Parents opposed to masks accused the board of ignoring the medical advice about masks from the county’s health commissioner, who holds that kids are perfectly safe inside school buildings. Two of them filed a 300-page lawsuit asking a Bucks County Court of Common Pleas judge to bar the district from imposing a mask mandate on students.
People on the other side, including teachers concerned for their own safety and that of their students and families, are demanding a safe school environment as they did when we first heard of coronavirus 17 months ago.