Aug 3, 2021 - Health

Parents caught in the middle of K-12 masking debate

Illustration of a school bus wearing a mask.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Parents in some parts of the U.S. are increasingly frustrated at their deadlocked school districts when it comes to masking policies and the few options for protecting unvaccinated kids this fall.

The big picture: The Biden administration's recent plea that people wear masks indoors again risks falling on deaf ears in the hardest-hit states, leaving families who are at odds with local policies in a quandary.

Driving the news: The Delta variant makes safe unmasking much harder, especially without an available vaccine for those 12 and under, according to a preprint study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health which had not yet been peer-reviewed.

  • "Mitigation measures or vaccinations for students when available can substantially reduce these risks," the authors write.

State of play: Pediatricians, public health experts, and even teachers are asking parents to send their child to school with a mask even if districts aren't mandating it.

  • "I know it’s really hard because they’re going to seem like they’re the odd person, but you’re looking at not only protecting the child but other individuals," said Tina Tan, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine.
  • Children are much less likely than adults to get very ill or die from COVID-19, according to several experts and studies.
  • But there are still concerns children may transmit to more vulnerable populations. Severe illness does happen and has killed some children.

What's happening: About half of states are allowing decisions on masking to be made at the local level — in theory, a way to address the individual needs by the community.

  • This can be tricky when committees with few resources see parents organizing and protesting outside school board meetings, Keri Rodrigues, co-founder and president of the National Parents Union said.
  • In Broward County, Florida, a meeting had to be postponed about two dozen mask opponents waged screaming matches with school board members and burned masks outside the building.

Still, three states — Louisiana, Oregon and Nevada — changed their positions since the CDC released guidance last week that all students and staff in schools should wear masks.

  • However, a number of states, including Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas have prevented local governments and school districts from requiring masks, according to AARP.
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