National News Desk

Mask mandates at schools no different than dress codes, superintendent says

Book and colored pencil on school table
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(NEW YORK) — Schools everywhere are feeling the pressure of the highly contagious delta variant as students head back into the classroom. Despite this — and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — at least eight states have banned face mask mandates in schools.

Though some have called the mandates impractical and unenforceable, other educators, like Durango School District Superintendent Karen Cheser, said such mandates would be no different than dress codes.

At Cheser’s district in Colorado, face masks have added to school dress codes per CDC recommendations that everyone in schools, regardless of vaccination status, should mask up indoors.

Students in the district have been masked up since last year, and Cheser said teachers and administrators have followed the same protocol as with inappropriate clothing.

When a student walks in without a mask, whether the student forgot it or doesn’t have one, they’re given the opportunity to get a mask from school officials.

If that doesn’t work, or there’s a repeated issue, Cheser said a student’s parents are contacted and that “typically” will lead to a quick resolution.

“But it could get to a point of student discipline,” she said. “That’s what would happen at any point if anyone refuses to follow the dress code.”

Cheser said if students have a doctor’s exemption to mask-wearing, the district will honor it, but it’s otherwise expected.

“The delta variants gotten out of control, cases are zooming, and now kids are affected,” Cheser said. “In order for us to keep kids in school and not have to have mass quarantining and spreading this disease, we know that masking is one aspect that will help with that.”

Children younger than 12 can’t receive the vaccine and remain extremely vulnerable. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, nearly 4.3 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, and child cases have steadily increased in recent weeks.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis ended Colorado’s mask mandate on May 14 and has left the decision on mask-wearing up to schools.

Polis didn’t respond to a request for comment from ABC News on Monday, but said in May, when he rescinded the mandate, “If you have been fully vaccinated, the pandemic is largely over for you, and you can now resume your activities without a mask. This is the day we have been waiting for. If you haven’t yet been vaccinated, you should continue to wear a mask in public indoor spaces.”

Several states have attempted to ban mask mandates in schools — Florida, Texas, and South Carolina among them — leaving decisions on mask-wearing up to children and their parents.

Those against mask mandates, such as Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, believe mask-wearing in schools infringes on personal freedom.

“There is no room for error or leniency when it comes to ensuring compliance with policies that allow parents and guardians to make health and educational choices for their children,” Corcoran wrote in an Aug. 10 letter to local school officials.

Corcoran has threatened to withhold funding from educators who enforce a mask-wearing. He declined to comment directly to ABC News, referring only to the letter sent to superintendents.

Several districts in these states have said they plan to defy those orders. Leon County Schools in Florida caved to the state’s threats and reversed its course — allowing students to opt out.

But pediatric cases of the coronavirus are skyrocketing. Roughly 94,000 children’s virus cases were recorded for the week ending Aug. 5, about 15% of all new cases in the U.S., the American Academy of Pediatrics reported.

Cheser hopes other districts follow the recommendations of health experts on mask-wearing to ensure that students, staff and teachers are as safe as possible.

“We’re not the health experts, we’re the education experts,” Cheser said. “We’re at a point now where we really need our health experts and health officials to make these decisions.”

 

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