As the new school year quickly approaches, at least eight of the 20 largest school districts in the US are making masks optional for students in school while another nine are requiring masks.
Three districts remain undecided with just weeks left until schools plan to open their doors.
With varying rules for indoors and outdoors, and with vaccines only available to children older than 12, back-to-school is not as clear cut as parents might have hoped it would be. And whatever the rules are today, the districts are making it clear that they will continue to change their guidance according to local public health conditions even after the school year starts.
For now, masks will be required in the three largest school districts: New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Chicago Public Schools announced that “masks will be worn by all in schools” in a tweet Thursday. In-person classes will return on August 30. Schools will maintain physical distancing of three feet where possible and will keep their cleaning and sanitizing measures in place, according to a release.
Public school districts in Philadelphia; Fairfax County, Virginia; Hawaii’s Public Schools; and Prince George’s County, Maryland, will also require masks.
In two North Carolina districts, Charlotte-Mecklenburg County and Wake County, masks are required for now. But state Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order requiring masks in schools is set to expire on July 31. It’s unclear whether the order will be extended on a state level, or whether the decision will be left to the districts after that.
The majority of the districts making mask-wearing optional in schools are in Florida and Texas, where the governors have enacted executive orders which ban mask mandates in school, but don’t prevent students from wearing a mask if they wish to do so.
For now, masks are optional in Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach, and Duval counties in Florida, as well as Houston and Dallas Independent School Districts. One other Florida county, Broward, will decide its policy at its next school board meeting on July 27.
Over the last week, Florida leads the nation and Texas is third in the averages of daily new cases. Florida reported more than 45,000 new cases, and Texas reported more than 32,000 new cases in the past week, according to a CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis indicated on Thursday he would challenge the federal government or any local district that tries to make masks mandatory.
“There’s been talk about potentially people advocating at the federal level, imposing compulsory masks on kids,” DeSantis said. “We’re not doing that in Florida, OK? We need our kids to breath. We need our kids to be able to be kids.”
Masks are optional in Gwinnett County, the largest school district in Georgia.
In Montgomery County, Maryland, masks are required for summer school, and “tentative mask guidance” for the school year will be announced in August, according to the school district. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s statewide face covering mandate was lifted as of July 1.
Clark County, Nevada, the nation’s fifth largest district, had put out earlier guidance for its summer school program that mask usage would be based on grade level, with masks optional for grades K-3, required for grades 4-5, and optional for grades 6-12.
A representative from the district told CNN on Friday, “Regarding the upcoming school year, which begins August 9, we are still reviewing policies in conjunction with local health officials.”
The district did not make it clear when its guidance would be updated.
Correction: An earlier headline and version of this story overstated the number of the 20 largest school districts that are making masks optional for students. At least eight are making them optional and three remain undecided. The story also incorrectly described the policy on masks In Montgomery County. Masks are required for summer school and “tentative mask guidance” for the school year will be announced in August, according to the school district.
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