Many states began dialing back their COVID restrictions earlier this spring and summer, including mask wearing. However, with the Delta variant of COVID-19 becoming more prevalent and the CDC issuing new guidance, more states and localities have begun re-instituting mask mandates across the country. Meanwhile, other states have taken action to prohibit mask mandates. Moreover, a lot of the discussion has evolved into whether or not K-12 students should have to wear masks while at school as we approach the 2021-2022 school year and whether or not unvaccinated people should also go back to wearing masks.
Where does your state stand on mask mandates in schools?
Included in Arizona’s state budget, passed earlier this summer, was a provision prohibiting mask mandates at schools in the state. Governor Doug Ducey had previously rescinded mask requirements by students and staff in Arizona schools in April of 2021.
More recently on August 17th, Governor Ducey announced that all district and charter schools in the state will be eligible for $163 million in federal grant funding, as long as they follow all state laws and remain open for in-person instruction. A spokesman for the governor indicated schools who presently have mask mandates in place will have 10 days to rescind their mandate or risk losing out on the federal funding.
Governor Ned Lamont announced on August 17th that masks will be required in K-12 schools for at least the first month of the school year. The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, representing 22 cities and towns in the state, recently called on the governor to take a step further by issuing a statewide mask mandate.
Governor Ron DeSantis signed Executive Order No. 21-175 on July 30th, which “ensures parents’ freedom to choose” whether or not their child wears a mask in school. Specifically, the Order directs the Florida Department of Health and Department of Education to ensure that safety protocols for mitigating the spread of COVID in schools do not violate Floridians’ constitutional freedoms, do not violate parents’ rights under Florida law to make health care decisions for their minor children, and protect children with disabilities or health conditions who may be harmed by protocols like mask mandates.
The Order also calls for the Florida Commissioner of Education to withhold state funds from noncompliant school districts. However, some school boards have broken with the governor’s order and have instituted their own mask mandates. As a result, the Biden Administration’s Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona, has indicated schools stripped of state funding can use federal dollars to replenish their funds.
Governor Eric Holcomb previously indicated he would not institute a statewide mask mandate, but has offered his support more recently for schools who choose to mandate masks for students and staff this upcoming school year. Holcomb, a Republican, has said he believes schools with mask mandates are making wise decisions “when the facts warrant it.”
On August 10th, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear issued an Executive Order related to face covering requirements. Specifically, the order requires all individuals – all teachers, staff, students, and visitors, to cover both their nose and mouth with a face mask when indoors in all public and private preschools, Head Start, K-12, including in school buses, regardless of vaccination status. The order also requires all staff and visitors, and all children over the age of 2 who are able to, to wear a face mask when indoors in all child care settings, regardless of vaccination status. Exempt under the governor’s order are:
- Children under the age of two years;
- Anyone who is sleeping or unconscious;
- Anyone with a disability or a physical or mental impairment that prevents them from safely wearing a face covering;
- Anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing and is actively communicating, or anyone who is actively communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing and able to maintain a distance of six feet from anyone not a member of their household;
- Anyone engaged in work that a state or federal regulator has concluded would make wearing a face mask a risk to either their health or safety;
- Anyone who is seated and actively consuming food or beverage;
- Anyone obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of a face covering in order to perform the service;
- Anyone required to temporarily remove their face mask to confirm their identity or for security/screening purposes;
- Anyone giving a speech or broadcast and is able to maintain a distance of six feet from anyone not in their household;
- Anyone in a swimming pool or other indoor body of water;
- Anyone actively engaged in exercise while indoors; or
- Anyone engaged in a lawful activity where federal or state law prohibits wearing a face mask.
GOP lawmakers have asked the governor to revise his face mask order.
At a news conference in late July, Governor John Bel Edwards said he would not be mandating masks, but strong encouraged people in Louisiana to wear them. However, with the school year fast approaching and the delta variant spreading, he reversed course and temporarily reinstated a statewide mask mandate on August 2nd. The mask mandate applies to K-12 schools, universities, and other institutions of higher education.
On August 6th, Governor Phil Murphy announced new indoor mask requirements for the upcoming school year. The governor’s Executive Order directs all public, private, and parochial preschool programs and elementary and secondary schools, as well as charter and renaissance schools, to have a mandatory face mask policy which applies to students, staff, and visitors when indoors on school property.
It has been reported recently the governor’s EO faces a court challenge.
In Rhode Island, Governor Dan McKee has opted not to mandate masks and instead urged schools to strongly recommend them. However, the Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary Education voted Tuesday to order Rhode Island’s Department of Education to not approve any district’s back-to-school plans unless such plans call for mandating masks. The Council voted despite a Department of Education lawyer indicating they don’t have the authority to issue a mask mandate statewide.
More than 30 RI state lawmakers recently sent a letter to the governor asking him to require face masks for the upcoming school year.
Governor Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order on July 29th iterating that the following requirements shall continue to apply to ensure no governmental entity can mandate masks in the state:
- No governmental entity (i.e. a county, city, school district, public health authority, etc.) and no government official is allowed to require anyone to wear a face covering or mandate another person to wear a face covering, provided that:
- State supported living centers and government owned and operated hospitals may continue to use appropriate policies related to the use of face masks; and
- The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, and any county and municipal jails acting consistent with guidance by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards are permitted to use appropriate policies related to the use of face masks.
With public schools not being allowed to mandate face masks, parents can still make decisions for their children and wearing face masks, as can private schools.
Lawmakers are even now looking to address mask mandates and schools in the legislature’s second special session, which is currently at its midway point and still without a quorum due to Democrats in the House fleeing the state.