Large school districts in the United States are allowing students to attend classes without face coverings for the first time in nearly two years. Rules around face coverings, or masks, have caused fights between educators, school boards and parents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York City is the largest school district in the country. It ended its mask requirement on March 7. Philadelphia lifted its school mask requirement on March 9. It joined other major cities such as Houston and Dallas which took similar action last week. Chicago schools ended their mask requirement on Monday.
Parents, teachers and school leaders all have to balance the new rules. Some families are happy that their children no longer have to wear masks. But others say they are still concerned and are urging their children to continue wearing face coverings for the time being.
Educators are caught in the middle.
In Anchorage, Alaska, senior school official Deena Bishop said the lifting of the mandate at nearly 100 public schools in the city was a welcome change. She said there had been months of disputes over the masks.
“So I’m glad we took that fight away…and now we can get back to to concentrate on learning,” Bishop said.
Declining COVID-19 infection rates and new federal health recommendations are leading states to drop requirements. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released new guidelines stating that most healthy Americans, including students, can safely stop wearing masks.
But those who disagree on ending school mask requirements often point to low vaccination rates among American children. Only about 25% of children aged 5 to 11 have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Only 58% of children ages 12 to 17 are vaccinated, according to the CDC.
New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois and Delaware recently lifted their statewide school mask requirements. New Jersey and Rhode Island officially dropped theirs last Monday. California, Oregon and Washington have all dropped their warrants March 12.
In many places, decisions are made at the local school district level.
Officials in many major cities, such as Boston, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, have said they will keep mask rules for now. Officials say that could change if vaccination rates increase among their students or if they can strike deals with teachers’ unions. Unions have been strong supporters of keeping mask requirements in place.
Chicago schools announced last week that masks would no longer be required starting March 14. The city’s teachers’ union then promised to prosecute those responsible. They said the move would break an agreement with the district to maintain the mask rule through the end of the school year.
In New York, elementary school student Jack Jalaly stopped wearing his mask when he became optional. For kids, “it’s really great because you can see the way the words are pronounced and you can see the spelling,” Jack’s mother Andrea said.
But graduate student Derrick Carter-Jacob kept his mask on even after New York scrapped the requirement.
“Leave him. There’s no reason for him to take it off until everyone is safe,” said his relative, Michael Jacob.
John Bracey is a Latin teacher at Belmont High School near Boston, Massachusetts. He said he would continue to wear his mask until the end of the academic year, even if district officials decide to end the term.
“I have major concerns on so many levels,” Bracey said. “I just can’t find a public health or a moral justification to delete them. »
Melissa Bello is a mother in Needham, Massachusetts, near Boston. She said her two children were among those who happily took their masks off last week.
She said her 8-year-old son suffered from hearing loss and struggled to understand what people were saying when wearing masks.
“He works harder every day in school and comes home more tired,” Bello said. ” There is not enough consideration for that kind of compromise in those mask mandates.
I am Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning from Associated Press reporting.
words in this story
district — nm an area established by a government for official government business
to concentrate — v. direct your attention or effort toward something specific
mandate — nm an official order to do something
optional — adj. optional but not required
justification — nm an acceptable reason to do something
consideration — nm thinking carefully about something you are going to make a decision about