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Parents battle over masks in schools as delta continues to spread

Schools across the country are weighing tough decisions about whether or not to mandate masks on campus, and the debate is getting heated.

Disputes over safety are dominating the new school year as cases of the delta variant continue to impact kids. Nearly 204,000 new pediatric COVID cases were added from August 19-26, a five-fold increase from the number of kids who were diagnosed with the virus at the end of July. As the delta variant continues to spread, many schools are weighing tough decisions about whether or not to mandate masks in the classroom, and the debate is getting heated.

In Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina and several other states, governors have implemented bans on mask mandates in schools and other public places. In Florida, a judge in Leon County has moved to block a mask ban ordered by Governor Ron DeSantis, and parents in Texas have also filed lawsuits against the bans. On August 30, the Department of Education announced that it has launched civil rights investigations in five states to determine if mask bans are discriminatory toward students with disabilities.

Fights over masks aren’t only happening at the state and federal level. At school board meetings around the country, parents on both sides of the debate have gotten into heated altercations with officials and each other. At one meeting in Lee County, Florida, physical fights erupted following the announcement of a mask mandate. In Ohio, police had to be called to a school board meeting to help enforce mask rules for angry parents.

In Dripping Springs, Texas, a pro-mask dad went viral after he stripped out of his clothes during a school board meeting to make a point that refusing to wear a mask is just like refusing to follow dress codes or other public safety guidelines.

Children under 12 still cannot be vaccinated against COVID-19, and that puts many parents in a tough spot as they try to protect vulnerable kids. While kids are less likely to be hospitalized or get severely ill from the virus, there are signs that the delta variant is driving higher transmission among children.

In Utah, cases in school age children are 3.5 times higher than they were at this time last year, and an analysis by the Miami Herald shows kids under 12 saw the sharpest increase in cases of the virus out of all age groups during the month of July. During the week of August 23, an average of 338 COVID-positive children were admitted to hospitals each day. 

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows just how easily the virus can spread in schools. According to the report, a symptomatic California teacher spread COVID-19 to at least 12 of her students after she took her mask off to read aloud to the class.

Experts say the best approach to COVID safety is a layered mitigation strategy that includes vaccination for those eligible, masks, good ventilation, testing and contact tracing. 

The CDC has already recommended universal mask-wearing in schools, and the latest report reiterates that stance. “In addition to vaccination, strict adherence to multiple nonpharmaceutical prevention strategies, including masking, are important to ensure safe school instruction,” the report concludes.