Florida’s education commissioner directed superintendents Wednesday not to impose mask mandates in their districts next school year because he believes they’re now unnecessary, as schools across the country grapple with what to do about mask orders amid rising vaccinations—but not among children—and as state mask mandates are rescinded.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said schools should make mask-wearing voluntary in the 2021-2022 school year, saying in a memo he believes the mandatory orders “serve no remaining good at this point in our schools.”
Corcoran pointed to data that said mask policies “do not impact the spread of the virus” and noted mask policies “may impede instruction” for some students, such as disabled students and those who do not have English as a first language.
It will still ultimately be left up to districts to decide whether they want to impose mask mandates, and several districts told the Orlando Sentinel that while they would use the guidance in their consideration, they had still not yet decided on their policies for next year.
Corcoran’s letter comes as school districts across the country are being left to determine what their mask policies should be, leading to a series of debates and even protests from parents on either side of the issue. Parents in Collier County, Florida, recently held a series of “unmask our children” protests as the county lifted its mask mandate, for instance, and school officials in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, said it would reconsider its mask order after parents opposed it. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports children have typically been shown not to be as seriously affected by Covid-19 and there has no been “substantial” transmission in schools, current vaccine authorizations only permit those over age 16 to be vaccinated. The B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom—now the dominant virus strain in the U.S.—has also been shown to likely be more transmissible among young children.
Corcoran’s letter has received pushback from Democrats and school officials who are concerned about the directive’s potential effect. “The state Education Commissioner’s job is to ensure students learn safely, not endanger children and teachers with crank health opinions that subvert proven health and classroom safety protocols,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) tweeted Thursday in response to the memo.
While Florida pushes for masks to be dropped in schools, other states without statewide mask mandates have taken the opposite stance. Utah, Indiana, Mississippi and Wyoming have all lifted statewide mask orders in recent weeks but left them in effect for K-12 schools for at least the rest of this school year. Those decisions have not been without controversy, however: Utah and Indiana parents have protested the continued mandates in schools, and the Casper Star-Tribune reports at least 10 of Wyoming’s 48 school districts have already received exemptions to the order that lets them operate without a mask mandate.
What To Watch For
Pfizer has asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize its Covid-19 vaccine for those ages 12 and up, potentially paving the way for more school-aged children to become vaccinated before next school year. Moderna has also started a clinical trial to determine whether the vaccine is safe for younger children—as did AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, though that trial has now been put on pause due to a rare blood clot issue observed among a small number of people who received the shot.
Florida education commissioner: Schools cannot have mandatory mask rules next year (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
Ten Wyoming school districts no longer require face masks (Casper Star Tribune)