The beginning of the year is imminent, and superintendents around the country aren’t sweating bus schedules and bell times but Covid-19 vaccination rates and mask rules, as the pandemic threatens to disrupt K-12 education for the third school year running.
School leaders face complex pressures with millions of students preparing to return. The spreading delta strain of the coronavirus is highly contagious, though it still appears that children typically fare better with the virus than their elders do. But they may bring deadly infections home.
Parents are eager for their children to be back learning in-person so they can return to the workplace. But public-health guidance has been inconsistent: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said less than three weeks ago that only unvaccinated children need masks at school, while the American Academy of Pediatrics says everyone over 2 years old should wear one.
In the face of delta, the CDC changed its guidance on July 27, advising that everyone should wear a mask in schools. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the change was warranted by “worrisome” science showing that some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant can spread it. She acknowledged that the shift in guidance, which also calls for vaccinated people in high-risk areas to wear masks indoors, is not welcome news. “This is not a decision that we or CDC have made lightly,” she said. “This weighs heavily on me.”
Seven states, including Arizona and Arkansas, have banned local school districts from requiring pupils to wear masks. At the opposite end of the spectrum are California, Washington, and a few other states, which require them in public schools, but with some flexibility for school districts. Other states have sought a middle ground, allowing districts to set their own policies but recommending that they require masks.
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