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School leaders find themselves in the middle of state mask rules as they end

As the end nears for some of the U.S.'s last statewide mandates regarding masks, local leaders are now deciding whether teachers and students should continue wearing masks at school.

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School leaders find themselves in the middle of state mask rules as they end

This is a critical decision as they are caught up in one of the most volatile issues of the pandemic.

Jeffrey Solan, Cheshire's school superintendent, stated that "Unfortunately, there is an issue where it is not going to be happy for everybody." "Those individual passions cannot decide the debate.

In many parts of the country, the issue of school masks has become so contentious that school board meetings have turned into shouting matches and scuffles. Protesters have demonstrated outside the homes of administrators. In an effort to influence policies, slates of anti- and pro-mask candidates ran for seats on school boards.

Solan received messages Monday from family members who felt that masks were essential for protecting students, and others who had long been opposed to them.

He said that if the decision needed to be made immediately, New Haven's suburbs would still require masks based on metrics including infection and vaccination rates.

Some school officials in the country welcomed the state's mandates to save them from making unpopular decisions early on in the pandemic. Many superintendents agree that they have the tools they need to decide if masks are necessary and can adapt to changing circumstances.

As COVID-19's Omicron surge subsides, the governors of Connecticut and Delaware, New Jersey, Oregon announced this week plans to remove mask requirements from schools by February or March. On Wednesday, Massachusetts joined the list.

After her state's announcement in Massachusetts, Kerry Arouca, a Massachusetts parent, said that she was uncomfortable with the timing. "I believe that until we have a better understanding of COVID-19, the children should do their best not to remove their masks. Maybe some mask breaks outside until everyone is vaccinated."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that students and staff wear masks inside buildings. District leaders must weigh federal guidance against what they see in their schools and hear from parents, teachers, and students.

Some districts, such as Philadelphia, Wichita (Kansas) and Albuquerque (New Mexico), still require masks, despite the repeal of state mandates.

Others have made them optional.

Wesley Watts, West Baton Rouge Superintendent, stated that it was initially comforting that all schools required masks. But that was only then. After October ended, his district no longer required masks. Schools were permitted to opt out from a state mandate provided they adhered to CDC recommendations.

Watts stated, "Just knowing the pulse in our community, they were ready to it."

After a judge's decision invalidating the state mandate, Superintendent Joshua Stafford stated that masks were made optional in his Vienna, Illinois school district. The state appealed.

"We are two years into this. He said that they have data, trend history and some things we can view.

Stafford stated that hardly anyone in his Illinois community, which is located 20 minutes from Paducah (Kentucky) and five hours from Chicago, still wears masks. This, combined with data showing a low spread in district schools, and the problem masks can cause to muffle voices and hide facial expressions in class, convinced Stafford to change to a mask-optional policy.

Stafford stated, "On the other hand, there are those who have autoimmune disorders or other extenuating circumstances. That has to be weighed in with the balance of this pandemic and the response." "It's not an easy decision.

Marsha McClary is a suburban Chicago mother of five children ages 7-17. She called the Illinois governor’s attempts to maintain a school mandate "an atrocity."

McClary stated that her husband and she had traveled to Texas and Florida for work over the past two year. They saw places such as Texas and Florida where masks weren't necessary. She said that it was easy to see COVID data from those places and compare them to Illinois.

According to Dan Domenech (executive director of the School Superintendents Association), school superintendents prefer flexibility in making decisions about mask requirements, based on infection rates and vaccination rates.

He said, "What we have seen in this country" is that the severity of the pandemics and the extent of the infections depend on where they are located. You can't make a blanket statement that everyone will have to do this, that everybody must wear a mask, or that you don't need one, without considering the differences within your region.

He said that in a variety of states, including Maryland, Virginia and Texas, districts have been dropping mask requirements and reimposing them to adapt to the latest viruses.

Christopher Albrecht, a Brockport, New York teacher, would prefer that any changes to the district's mask policy be made at the "natural breaking point," such as the end of the school-year, and not midstream. He said that if this is done, it could lead to deeper divisions, as some teachers and students will wear masks while others do not.

Albrecht stated that it doesn't seem like a problem to keep masks on fourth graders for now. "I haven’t heard any kids complain. It's like they don't have any complaints. It's almost like wearing socks.

He is also concerned about parents pulling their children away from schools they no longer consider safe.

How can superintendents handle complaints about school masks from all sides?

"That's why many superintendents are leaving the field in large numbers. They're caught in the middle. Domenech stated that they are damned to do so and damned to not.

He said that three Oregon superintendents were fired because they enforced the state's school-mask mandate, which their local school boards rejected.

New York's Democratic Governor. Kathy Hochul stated Wednesday that the state's mandate for school masks will continue in effect and will be reviewed in March.

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