UPDATE — Masks in Schools: Florida Mask Mandate Ban Being Challenged in Court
Mask policies differ widely among school districts, colleges and states as campus administrators plan for upcoming school year, creating confusion over who’s in charge of making the rules.
UPDATE AUGUST 24, 2021: Florida’s power struggle between pro-mask parents and the governor and state election officials is now in court. Arguments about the state’s mask mandate ban are taking place in a three-day hearing before Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper, reports the Associated Press.
At least eight school districts, which represent more than 1 million Florida K-12 students, are currently defying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban because COVID cases in the state are surging, and the districts say the Delta variant is affecting children more than earlier strains of the virus. They are requesting the court block DeSantis’ ban.
UPDATE AUGUST 24, 2021: Utah’s mask mandate ban is being challenged in court by nine parents of school children. Gov. Spencer Cox and Attorney General Sean Reyes are both being sued, reports the Associated Press.
One of the parents involved in the suit claims the ban puts her 10-year-old son, who has Type 1 diabetes, at serious risk of infection.
UPDATE AUGUST 19, 2021: The Paris Independent School district is using its dress code to get around Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates. The district is now requiring students to wear masks as part of its dress code. The decision was made in an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
The district said in its statement that: “Nothing in the Governor’s Executive Order 38 states he has suspended Chapter 11 of the Texas Education Code, and therefore the Board has elected to amend its dress code consistent with its statutory authority,” reports the Paris News.
The change in dress code isn’t permanent and will be reviewed monthly.
In Lamar County where the district is located, there were 505 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.
Currently, many southern states are experiencing a huge surge in infections among children. In Mississippi, more than 20,000 students are under quarantine after the first week of school, while more than 10,000 students and staff in the Hillsborough County Public Schools district in Florida are under quarantine.
UPDATE AUGUST 18, 2021: The Florida Board of Education has unanimously voted to punish two counties in the state for requiring masks be warn in schools, reports WFLA. The two counties are Alachua and Broward.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says both counties must allow a different type of parental opt-out to avoid violating the states rules that ban mask mandates. Alachua County Superintendent Carlee Simon defended her county’s policy, saying it was based on the high rate of COVID positivity in her area and that more than 600 students were in quarantine.
The state board voted to do a more thorough review of Simon and the Alachua board but also to investigate other ways to enforce compliance, possibly withholding salaries and removing officers for non-compliance.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said federal COVID-19 relief funds for schools could be used to fill any financial gaps caused by penalties imposed on local school districts by state leaders, reports the Associated Press.
UPDATE AUGUST 16, 2021: On Sunday the Texas Supreme Court blocked Dallas and Bexar counties’ mask mandates, reports Yahoo News. Texas Gov. Greb Abbott had previously banned the mandates, but only last week Bexar County, Texas Civil District Court Judge Toni Arteaga approved a temporary restraining order preventing the enforcement of Abbott’s ban.
Dallas and Bexar officials say the mask requirements will remain in place. Both the state and the counties’ cases will be heard in court today.
Wearing masks has been proven to slow the spread of COVID-19. Currently, the state of Texas, as well as other southern states are experiencing a high rate of infection, primarily of the Delta variant, because those states have lower vaccination rates.
UPDATE AUGUST 13, 2020: A lawsuit seeking to overturn Nevada’s school mask mandate was filed on Thursday against Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, state Attorney General Aaron Ford and the Clark County School District. Attorneys for the plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for their claims that the rights of thousands of parents and children in Las Vegas area schools are being violated, reports US News.
Last week, Sisolak ordered K-12 students and school employees in the Las Vegas and Reno areas wear masks on buses and inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status.
UPDATE AUGUST 11, 2020: Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s school mask mandate is facing a legal challenge from attorney Tom DeVore. The lawyer filed the suit on behalf of the father of a student attending school in the southern part of the state, reports NPR Illinois. The lawsuit alleges the governor overstepped his authority. DeVore claims the the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act (IEMAA) doesn’t allow Pritzker to usurp the authority of school districts.
UPDATE AUGUST 11, 2020: The Broward County, Florida, School Board voted 8 to 1 on Tuesday to require students to wear face masks at school, despite the state’s ban on mask mandates. The board also approved filing a legal action to challenge Florida’s ban, reports CBS News.
Nationwide, children now make up nearly 15% of all COVID-19 infections.
UPDATE AUGUST 11, 2021: On Tuesday, Bexar County, Texas Civil District Court Judge Toni Arteaga approved a temporary restraining order preventing the enforcement of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in schools.
The judge issued the order after hearing from Metro Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Junda Woo. Woo’s affidavit, as well as the vulnerability of children returning to school during a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state weighed heavily in Arteaga’s decision, reports KSAT.
According to a press release, in response to the order, the city of San Antonio, as well as Bexar County will “immediately issue an order requiring masks in public schools and requiring quarantine if an unvaccinated student is determined to be in close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual.” Additionally, face masks will be required for county and city employees, as well as visitors to city and county facilities.
In response to the ruling, Abbott’s office said it expects its ban on mask mandates will eventually be upheld.
Other school districts in Texas are also challenging Abbott’s order, including Austin, Dallas ISD and Houston ISD.
ORIGINAL AUGUST 10, 2021 ARTICLE:
Will or won’t students and staff be required to wear masks as they return to school this fall? It’s a question that districts nationwide are struggling to answer, with some strongly advocating a return with masks and others banning mask mandates. No matter on which side of the fence school administrators sit or how they decide to proceed, battles are brewing nationwide, as mandates and mandate bans swing widely by states and districts, begging the question of just who has the authority to make the rules?
One of the biggest battles is happening in Florida, where a state-wide executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis gives parents—not the school district—the final say as to whether their child should have to wear a mask to school. The executive order banning mask mandates also threatens that the state could withhold public funds from “noncompliant school boards,” reports NPR. Despite the order, several schools in Florida are keeping their mask mandates in place due to the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases in the state and the fact that facial coverings help to significantly stem the spread of the virus. Florida’s Board of Education complicated matters even more by announcing that it would provide school vouchers for parents who see mask-wearing requirements as harassment.
A similar scenario is happening in Texas, where the Houston Intermediate School District (HISD) and Dallas Independent School District are defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, reports ABC 13 and KXAN. Similar to Florida’s Board of Education, the Texas Education Agency’s COVID protocols say that school systems can’t require students or staff to wear a mask. Like Florida, Texas is also experiencing a big surge in COVID cases, with hospital capacities stretched to their limits.
In Arkansas, after witnessing a huge spike in COVID cases a week after the start of school, the Little Rock and Marion school districts and mayor of the state capital have asked a judge to block the state prohibition of schools from requiring masks, reports ABC News. The schools’ lawsuit argues that the ban violates Arkansas’ constitution. The Marion school district reported that 839 students and 10 staff members have quarantined since classes started about a week ago.
As mask policies continue to unfold, a common thread has emerged, according to a CNN analysis. Vaccination rates among adolescents tend to be lower in states that have banned mask mandates than in schools that will require masks. So far, per the CNN report, seven states have prohibited mask mandates. Also, larger school districts tend to require masks more so than smaller districts. According to CNN, 12 of the 20 biggest school districts in the nation will require their students and staff to don masks. The remaining eight are in Florida and Texas, where the governors have banned mask mandates.
Despite their governors’ orders, some districts in Arizona, as well as the University of Wisconsin, are imposing their own mask mandates, reports Forbes. Wisconsin University’s decision goes against the state legislature, which requires the public institution of higher education to get permission to impose mask orders or other COVID-19 policies.
Other governors, like New Jersey’s Gov. Phil Murphy, are taking a completely different stance. Reversing his statement in June that a statewide mask mandate was not necessary and that each school had that authority to make its own decision, Murphy has now instituted a state-wide mandate for all K-12 students to wear masks, reports Northjersey.com. Currently, the delta variant is responsible for more than 80% of the COVID strains in New Jersey.
Kentucky is also requiring the wearing of masks in all state-owned buildings. The University of Kentucky announced last week it will require masks be worn by everyone regardless of vaccination status, inside all indoor spaces including academic and medical campuses starting Monday. Students are exempt from mask wearing when in a residence hall room with a roommate and/or guests who have all been vaccinated. Nor are masks required for anyone alone indoors or outdoors.
Currently, children under the age of 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19, and an increasing number of children are falling ill from the virus. However, in states where data was available, less than 2% of all child coronavirus cases required hospitalization and 0.00%-0.03% were fatal, reports NPR.
The mandates and bans on mandates are inciting lawsuits, withdrawal of funding … and a lot of confusion and likely modifications.
On a national level, the White House has slammed the state mask mandate bans, telling governors of those states to “get out of the way.”
One thing is certain—there’s no clear-cut answer and the debate is far from over. How loose or tight are the mask rules in your state? District Administration has posted a state-by-state rundown.
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