New school year, no mask rules for most of U.S.

This story originally appeared on Chalkbeat Philadelphia

Nearly 300 of the 500 districts Burbio tracks, including New York City, dropped their mandates in March and April. Other districts that had continued requiring masks, like Detroit, changed course over the summer.

“Students and staff should exercise good judgment and support others’ mask-wearing choices,” Prince George’s County Schools, the last Maryland district requiring masks, said in July as it announced masks would be optional moving forward.

The Los Angeles school district lifted its mandate in March but was considering a reinstatement as county health officials signaled concern. On Tuesday, the district announced it would stick with its mask-optional policy.

The shifts come as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people in schools in high COVID level counties to wear masks indoors. Nearly half the country falls into that category.

Schools in Florida, Georgia, Utah, and Virginia couldn’t put a mandate into effect for kids even if they wanted to due to a variety of laws, legal actions, and executive orders. Eight other states in the South and Midwest have similar legislation or court decisions pending, according to Burbio.

That leaves only a small handful of districts still enforcing a mask mandate.

Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky decided to require masks for the return to school. Others requiring masks for all include San Diego Unified School District, New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut, and Sacramento City Unified School District in California.

Gwinnett and Clayton County School districts, both near Atlanta, are requiring masks for adults.

Philadelphia and Newark also still have mandates in place. Philadelphia reinstated its mandate in May due to rising COVID-19 case counts and has not updated its policy since. The first day of school is still weeks away, though, and officials signaled change is possible.

“Our team is actively working with our local health experts to review our current guidelines and protocols,” a district spokesperson said. “We will make any necessary updates and share those with families before the 2022-23 school year.”

Thoughts from parents in the district are mixed.

Ashley Jimenez has four children in three different Philadelphia schools and her husband teaches in the district.

“Families must do what they feel is right for them. A mandate infers that families don’t know what’s right for them,” Jimenez said. “Clearly other school districts understand this and have made strides towards allowing families this decision. It shows Philadelphia’s continued paternalistic stance towards its mostly Black and Brown families to require masks.”

But Saterria Kersey, president of the Home and School Council at Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School, said with COVID still around, she “applaud[s] the district for thinking about our children’s well-being.”

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