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Cardona Admonishes Governors Who Ban Mask Mandates, Says ‘All Teachers’ Want Schools Open

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 05, 2021 5 min read
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona talks with Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott after a tour of Graceland Park-O'Donnell Heights Elementary Middle School in Baltimore on Aug. 4, 2021.
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U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona challenged governors in Florida and Texas who have barred school districts from requiring students and teachers to wear masks, and announced efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among children 12 and older as the school year gets under way.

In his remarks during a White House press conference Thursday, Cardona also dismissed the idea that teachers’ unions would resist a return to classrooms, saying, “All teachers want schools reopened.”

He repeatedly called for leaders to keep politics out of schools’ efforts to reopen and said that adult decisions should not hurt students who need in-person learning after 18 months of closures and isolation. “Our kids have suffered enough,” Cardona said of students, highlighting the importance of supporting their mental health and the well-being of educators, too.

When asked by a reporter what he would say to two Republican governors, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, who have prohibited districts from requiring masks in schools, Cardona responded, “Don’t be the reason why schools are interrupted.” (Cardona added that he was in touch with those governors and wanted to work with them effectively.)

On the other hand, he praised Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, who earlier this year signed a law that prohibited school districts from putting any masking requirements in place, but is now seeking to reverse that ban. Hutchinson faces an uphill battle in getting state lawmakers to agree with him.

School Mask Mandates at a Glance

This information is no longer being updated. The last data update was on May 23, 2022.

  • MASK MANDATE BAN IN EFFECT


    1. Florida

    On Sept. 22, Florida's surgeon general instituted a rule that gives parents and legal guardians "sole discretion" over masking in schools. On Nov. 5, a judge sided with the state health department in a legal challenge to rule. On Nov. 18, Gov. DeSantis signed a bill that allows parents to sue school districts that require masks.

    2. Georgia

    On March 29, Gov. Kemp signed the “Unmask Georgia Students Act” which allows parents to exempt their child from a school mask requirement. The law went into effect immediately.

    3. Iowa

    On Sept. 13, 2021, a federal judge ordered Iowa to halt enforcement of its law banning mask mandates in schools. On Jan. 25, 2022, a federal appeals panel narrowed that injunction. Iowa’s attorney general announced the state is not enforcing the ban while awaiting further action from the court. On May 16, 2022 a U.S. Court of Appeals lifted the injunction.

    4. Oklahoma

    On Sept. 1, an Oklahoma judge temporarily blocked the state law banning school mask mandates, but students or their parents can still opt out of school mask mandates if they choose.

    5. Utah

    In Utah, local health departments can issue 30-day school mask mandates with approval from the state or county government, according to the state’s top education official.

    6. Virginia

    On Jan. 15, Gov. Youngkin issued an executive order allowing parents to opt their child out of any school mask mandate. It effectively rescinded the state's school mask requirement that had been in place since August. That executive order was later halted by a judge. On Feb. 14, the Virginia legislature passed a measure that bans school mask mandates. That bill was signed by the governor on Feb. 16 and went into effect on March 1.

    MASK MANDATE BAN BLOCKED, SUSPENDED, OR NOT BEING ENFORCED


    1. Arizona

    On Sept. 27, a judge in Arizona blocked the state laws banning mask mandates that were set to take effect on Sept. 29. On Nov. 2, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld that ruling. On April 25, Gov. Ducey signed HB2616, which prevents schools from requiring a student to wear a mask without first getting parental consent. The ban, which replaces the one blocked by the courts, will go into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns.

    2. Arkansas

    An Arkansas judge ruled on Dec. 29, that a law signed by the governor in April that prohibited local officials, including school boards, from setting mask mandates was unconstitutional. School districts have been able to set their own mask requirements since August when the judge put the law on hold.

    3. South Carolina

    On Sept. 28, a federal judge suspended South Carolina from enforcing the rule that banned school districts from requiring masks for students.

    4. Tennessee
    5. Texas

    On March 17, an appeals court upheld an injunction that blocked Gov. Abbott's executive order banning mask mandates in schools, finding it is unlawful and exceeding the governor's authority. This is not the first time the state's ban has been halted by a judge.

    MASK REQUIREMENT IN EFFECT


    1. Hawaii

    Although Hawaii's state-wide indoor mask mandate ended on March 25, indoor masking will still be required in public schools at least through the summer.

    PREVIOUSLY HAD MASK REQUIREMENT


    1. California

    On Feb. 28, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington issued a joint announcement that mask requirements would end in their states effective March 12.

    2. Connecticut

    On Feb. 7, Gov. Lamont announced that the school mask rule would expire Feb. 28. He signed a bill on Feb. 15 that made the expiration date official.

    3. Delaware

    On Feb. 7, Gov. Carney amended his emergency order to allow his state-level school mask requirement to expire March 31. On Feb. 28, he announced that masks would no longer be required effective at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 1.

    4. District of Columbia

    On March 8, the department of health released updated guidelines that recommend universal masking only when community COVID-19 levels are high.

    5. Illinois

    On Feb. 5, a judge issued a temporary restraining order on the governor's statewide mask requirement. On Feb. 25, the state supreme court vacated that order. On the same day, the governor announced he would lift the requirement on Feb. 28.

    6. Kentucky

    Kentucky's school mask mandate ended in September, when the state legislature voted to limit the governor’s emergency powers.

    7. Louisiana

    According to a State of Emergency proclamation issued Nov. 23, which was extended on Jan. 19, students were required to wear masks in schools, but districts could opt out of the mandate if they adopted an isolation and quarantine policy consistent with the state's department of health protocols. On Feb. 16, Gov. Bel Edwards extended the order without requiring masking in schools.

    8. Maryland

    On Jan. 5, the mask mandate was extended for 180 days, but allowed school districts to opt out if certain vaccination rates were met. On Feb. 22, the state board of education voted to rescind the mandate. On Feb. 25, a state legislative committee gave final approval to lift the mandate effective March 1.

    9. Massachusetts

    On Sept. 27, the state began allowing schools to apply for a waiver from the face covering rules for vaccinated individuals if certain vaccination rates were met. On Feb. 9, officials announced the statewide mask requirement for K-12 schools would be lifted on February 28.

    10. Nevada

    On Feb. 10, Gov. Sisolak announced the immediate suspension of the school mask requirement. The previous mask requirement had only applied to counties with populations of 100,000 people or more.

    11. New Jersey

    On Feb. 7, Gov. Murphy announced plans to end his state’s school-mask requirement on March 7.

    12. New Mexico

    On Feb. 17, Gov. Grisham announced the end of the mask requirement, effective immediately.

    13. New York

    On Jan. 24, a judge struck down the state's mask mandate. A day later, an appeals judge restored the mandate. On Feb. 27, Gov. Hochul announced the mandate would be lifted on March 2.

    14. Oregon

    On Feb. 7, health officials said the state would drop its school mask requirement no later than March 31. On Feb. 24, the Oregon Health Authority announced the requirement would lift on March 19. However, on Feb. 28, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington issued a joint announcement that mask requirements would end in their states effective March 12.

    15. Pennsylvania

    A statewide mask mandate for Pennsylvania schoolchildren was thrown out by the state Supreme Court on December 10.

    16. Rhode Island

    On Feb. 9, Gov McKee announced the school mask mandate would only remain in effect until March 4. On Feb. 15, he signed an executive order specifying that the order would take effect at 5 p.m. on March 4.

    17. Virginia

    On Jan. 15, Gov. Youngkin issued an executive order allowing parents to opt their child out of any school mask mandate. It effectively rescinded the state's school mask requirement that had been in place since August. That executive order was later halted by a judge. On Feb. 14, the Virginia legislature passed a measure that bans school mask mandates. That bill was signed by the governor on Feb. 16 and went into effect on March 1.

    18. Washington

    On Feb. 17, Gov. Inslee announced the state's school mask requirement will end effective March 21. However, on Feb. 28, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington issued a joint announcement that mask requirements would end in their states effective March 12.

  • NOTES
    In January 2022, the Missouri attorney general, Eric Schmitt, sued some school districts that required masks, citing a November ruling by a county judge that said local health orders tied to COVID-19 were illegal. (The ruling was interpreted differently by different districts.) The state’s treasurer announced he would also crack down on schools with mask mandates. In mid-March, Schmitt began dropping lawsuits against school districts that no longer required masks. On May 19, 2022 Schmitt announced new lawsuits against several districts that had reinstated mask requirements.
    On Feb. 23, 2022, New Hampshire’s governor announced the state was no longer recommending universal indoor masking and therefore schools have to end mask mandates, arguing they violate state education department rules. Soon after, the department advised districts that the mandates “are inconsistent with” their rules. There’s disagreement over whether districts still have the authority to require masks, but at least one district changed its policy in response. A bill that would have banned mask mandates was vetoed by Gov. Sununu in May 2022.
    Updated 5/23/2022 | Sources: Local media reports, Education Week reporting | Learn more here

In addition, the Biden administration announced a “week of action” in K-12 and higher education to encourage student vaccinations, which is slated to include a push from dozens of youth and faith-based organizations, as well as an effort backed by the National Parent Teacher Association to have pediatricians talk about COVID-19 vaccines at parent-teacher meetings and other events. The administration is also supporting efforts to incorporate the vaccines into sports physicals for student athletes.

Cardona also plans travel with second gentleman Douglas Emhoff to visit a back-to-school vaccination clinic in Topeka, Kansas.

During the press conference, Cardona stressed that part of the administration’s goal is to have students talk to and convince each other about the benefits of getting the vaccine. But when asked by a reporter, Cardona did not say whether he would consider developing or promoting strategies like separating vaccinated students from their unvaccinated peers; instead he stressed the importance of masking and social distancing.

“Now is the time to get students back into the classroom, not to be complacent, and not to let politics get in the way,” Cardona said.

Seeking a ‘roadmap’ as the Delta variant gives schools headaches

Cardona’s remarks are part of a public-relations push by the Biden administration for schools to hold face-to-face classes for the 2021-22 academic year. The spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus has complicated life for educators focusing on how to resume in-person activities, and has fueled public concerns that the virus will caused massive, if not catastrophic, disruptions for students and schools for the third straight year.

Debates over whether districts should require masks in schools, and whether there should be any vaccine mandates for educators, have also fueled division about the best approach for schools over the next several months.

Last week, President Joe Biden called on schools to host vaccination clinics in order to boost the share of students ages 12 and up who are vaccinated.

On Monday, the Education Department released a “Return to Schools Roadmap” with resources and information intended to help schools reopen for in-person instruction with appropriate safety measures. Among other things, the department’s guide said schools and districts “should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and the occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on layered prevention strategies” as they work to keep classrooms open.

Cardona is also trying to balance the administration’s desire for schools to resume regular operations to the greatest extent possible with its desire to improve the K-12 system as a whole.

On Wednesday, Cardona gave a speech at a Baltimore school, in which he stressed that while having students return to schools is a top priority, students deserve more from schools in the future. “The goal is not March 2020,” Cardona said.

Citing the $122 billion in the American Rescue Plan for states and local school districts to support K-12 schools, as well as guidance about safe practices for reopening schools from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Biden administration said that in-person learning is crucial for helping students recover from the pandemic, especially those who’ve been hardest hit by COVID-19’s affects on schools and society at large.

However, the fluctuating recommendations from the CDC, which in May said vaccinated adults could largely forego masks indoors yet in July called for universal masking in schools as the Delta variant spread, could undercut optimism that the new school year will operate more smoothly for students and educators than last year. (The CDC’s May guidance did call on schools to maintain “layered mitigation strategies” including masks through at least the end of the 2020-21 school year.)

Biden said last week that 90 percent of teachers and other school staff are vaccinated. On Monday, the teachers’ union for New York state came out in opposition to a vaccination mandate. The Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday about whether the Biden administration supports a vaccination mandate for school staff.

In March, Biden set a goal of having all educators get at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of the month through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

Asked Thursday whether the current virus surge was making him rethink the wisdom of reopening school buildings, Cardona said, “While the Delta variant is providing new challenges, we have the tools, we have the resources, and we have the experience of what worked last year to get it done safely.”

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