School districts drop mask warrants, against CDC guidelines


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OOn May 7, Superintendent Kent Edwards of Kearney Public Schools in Nebraska delivered an explosive message to his community that, apart from a pandemic, would be generally harmless.

“We are delighted to see the faces of our students again.”

About a week before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that vaccinated people may forgo masks in most indoor and outdoor environments, the district of Nebraska to 5,900 students gave up his mandate to cover the face.

Now, since the CDC update, school districts across the country are following suit. Governors, including Henry McMaster of South Carolina, Spencer Cox from Utah and Jared Polis from Colorado announced that their state’s school systems could relax universal masking mandates for the final weeks of the school year. And neighborhoods such as Cobb schools in Georgia, Pasco County Florida Schools and Fargo Public Schools in North Dakota are in the process of switching to optional mask policies in the days and weeks to come.

However, the recent measures go against the recommendations of the CDC, which clarified on Saturday that universal masking and physical distancing are still recommended in schools, even for vaccinated teachers and students.

Confusion over new directions has spread not only to schools, but also to friends relearning how to navigate social gatherings, to outlets concerned about the safety of their employees, and to countless other places where masks have long been the norm. During about 122 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including more than 2 million educators, young people between the ages of 12 and 15 only last week were allowed to be vaccinated, and younger students are unlikely to be eligible until early next year.

“Our school orientation to finish the school year will not change,” CDC director Dr Rochelle P. Walensky said on Fox News Sunday, adding that the federal agency will work this summer to update its COVID-19 school safety recommendations before fall.

The next school year, however, may not be early enough in the eyes of some parents.

Earlier in May, protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the Greenville County, SC school district, chanting “Unmask our children.” A woman held up a poster that read: “Follow the science, masks don’t work.” (Research indicates that face coverings dramatically slow the spread of COVID-19.)

“Some families would like to see the masks disappear – like today or yesterday. Other families have serious health problems. They have people at home with weakened immune systems, ”Greenville County Schools spokesperson Tim Waller said. WYFF 4 News in response to the protests, adding that the district had received around 20 written comments from parents pleading for the mask warrants to remain in place.

Like many other burning political issues in schools throughout the pandemic, Jon Valant, senior associate at the Brookings Institution, sees the school masking dispute as a clash more over political ideology than over security preferences.

“It has happened time and time again that there is this division in responses to COVID … [that] is strongly correlated with the politics of the region, “he told 74.” The last case of it may be these school masking rules.

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As schools began to reopen last fall, Valant’s research found that district decisions about whether to open their doors to students were not being predicted by the rates of the coronavirus spreading in the community, But from residents who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

“You would expect the more cautious places to return to school in person or [that enforce] precautions like wearing a mask would be where there is the greatest immediate threat of COVID transmission, ”Valant said. “From what I saw, it didn’t.”

The debates over face covers in schools have left many communities sharply divided. In New Braunfels, for example, a city in Texas that is home to two separate school districts, conflicting mask policies have pitted neighbor against neighbor and pushed normally apolitical parents into new activist roles.

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In Harlan, Iowa, it’s not just parents, but students as well, who have been divided by masquerading policies – literally.

The CDC’s announcement last Thursday did not prompt a change in protocol for the Harlan Community School District, but some students have started to refuse to cover their faces at school regardless. So the neighborhood started separate unmasked students from their peers.

“Yesterday I pulled into the hallway long before I got to class and got put in the auditorium pretty much all day,” Jameson Bieker, a high school student who opposes masks, told KETV 7 from Omaha last Thursday.

It is not a punishment, but rather an accommodation, said Acting Superintendent Lynn Johnson.

“We are trying to find ways to continue educating these students, while keeping them separate from classrooms where masks are needed,” she said.

Bieker’s family is suing the school district for its mask tenure, a tactic anti-mask parents have turned to across the country – in large part in vain.

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But as skirmishes unfold at the local level, pandemic defense will ultimately remain a national effort. Going forward, Valant hopes leaders will look to the country’s best scientific guidance to decide which COVID-19 safety policies will be appropriate in schools.

“I hope that decisions that are made locally or within state government are rooted in the advice that states receive from the federal government,” he said. “And I hope the federal government is disseminating the best information possible.”

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