States are seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 specifically the delta variant. Preliminary research indicates that this version of COVID-19 may be even more contagious, so it makes sense that as kids return to school cases would spike. Since returning to remote learning seems unlikely at this point, many people are questioning what to do. As the vaccine is not ready for children under 12 yet, the answer to some seems to be masking up. This is not without controversy.
All around the country people are battling over whether or not schools SHOULD, or more specifically whether or not they CAN require students to wear masks.
This has been discussed ad nauseam. There is nothing new or compelling that anyone can say to make someone entrenched on either side of this issue to change their mind. The lines of to-mask or not to mask from a science, and ethical standpoint were drawn a long time ago. However, now legal lines have been drawn creating a battleground in the fight around masks.
Several states have taken it upon themselves not just to offer guidance on the issue but to mandate it, one way or the other. Some places have required masks in schools. And perhaps even more controversially, some states have banned mask mandates in schools.
As one might predict it is mostly red states doing the banning but putting that aside for a second, do they have the grounds to ban such mandates? Schools have a wide range of things they can make students do. At any given point a student can be subjected to rules about their dress, and appearance. That even includes things like hair. If a school can legally enforce strict dress codes for completely arbitrary reasons, do they not then also have the legal grounds to enforce masks for medical reasons?
The states that are seeking such bans like Iowa and Florida are doing so on the grounds of “parental choice” and the various claims of the ill-effects of long-term mask wearing.
It is worth noting they are not doing this without a legal challenge. A judge in Florida already essentially declared Gov. DeSantis’s mask mandate ban unconstitutional. Additionally, the Department of Education is investigating mask mandate bans in the states of Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. The Feds will specifically look to see if the banning of mask mandates is discriminatory towards high-risk students on the grounds that they may be kept from in person school due to unsafe environments.
“It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve,” US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said.
The slight majority of Americans do support mask mandates in schools for both teachers and students, but those figures are heavily divided along partisan lines. At any rate, if the current rates of infection keep up this will be a debate we have for months to come.