Parents fume as states keep school mask mandates

Governors are suddenly dropping mask mandates, but not fast enough for fed-up parents who are demanding the face-covering requirements in schools end now.

The governors of California, New York and Illinois plan to end indoor mask mandates this month but excluded schools, leaving millions of children stuck wearing masks despite mounting frustration of parents and educators. 

Oregon, Massachusetts and New Jersey said they’ll lift mask mandates — but not for weeks. Individual school districts in Virginia are fighting against a mask-optional policy imposed under the new Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin.

The mandates have led to bitter battles between parents and school districts, which have punished nonmasked students by locking them out of class or issuing suspensions and even expulsions. 

“We know teachers, administrators, school board members are traveling, cruising, dining out, going to sporting events, even meeting all together without masks,” Deb Attiah, a parent from Warren Township High School in Illinois, told The Washington Times. “But in school, the kids are treated like prisoners, chased down in the halls, yelled at during lunch. This is not for the well-being of anyone.”

Even as mask mandates are disappearing in public places across many states, schools are clinging to the masking requirement as teachers union officials and the Biden administration continue to insist they are a needed health measure to protect students, staff and the community.

In New York City, students are required to wear masks indoors and outdoors. 

American Federation of Teachers Union President Randi Weingarten, an influential adviser to the Biden administration, set what is likely an impossible hurdle for unmasking schoolchildren. 

She told MSNBC this week mask mandates should remain until COVID-19 is “low enough so that there’s no dissemination or transmission in schools.”

The Biden administration appears to be listening.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday they are not changing the recommendation that masks should be required indoors.

They were backed up by the White House later in the day.

“Our guidance has consistently been when you are in a high transmission area, which is everywhere in the country, you should wear a mask in indoor settings, including schools,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, announced Tuesday that the state would end indoor mask mandates. But he excluded schools from the reprieve.  

The Pritzker administration is instead doubling down on the requirement, appealing a court order striking down the mask mandate in 145 districts, including Gurnee, which includes Warren Township, where Mrs. Attiah lives.

Mr. Pritzker called the ruling to end school mask mandates “out of step” and said it would hurt the community. He plans to keep the school mask mandate in place until at least early spring. 

“Hundreds and even thousands of people in a community are affected when there’s an outbreak in a school that’s gone maskless,” Mr. Pritzker said. “That affects not only whether a school will go remote, but also whether workers at local businesses will get sick.”

Parents are increasingly frustrated and some are using their authority to put an end to mandates.

In Virginia, state Sen. Chapman Petersen, a Democrat, is leading an effort to pass a law making masks optional in schools.

He co-sponsored bipartisan legislation ending the mask mandates that advanced in the Virginia state Senate on Tuesday and is poised to end up on Mr. Youngkin’s desk.

But the measure would not become law until March 1 at the earliest.

Mr. Petersen, a father of four representing parts of Fairfax County, wrote to Fairfax County School Superintendent Scott Brabrand, urging him to end the mandate, which has been in place since schools reopened to in-person learning in the spring of 2021.

Fairfax is among seven counties battling Mr. Youngkin’s executive order making mask-wearing in schools optional. 

“After a year, the data on student masking is easily found and is overwhelming,” Mr. Petersen wrote. “The forced masking of children has no correlation with community health.”

Rory Cooper, a political strategist and Fairfax County parent who has been a vocal opponent of the school’s COVID closures and masking requirement, blamed politics for the extended mask mandate.

Fairfax and the six other districts battling Mr. Younkin’s mask-optional order are all led by Democrats. 

“The Fairfax County’s school board has been blinded by partisan angst and union bidding for two years and no amount of suffering among their student body will ever supersede their politics,” Mr. Cooper said in an interview.

Health, The New York Today

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