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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Minnesota and federal health officials are urging universal masking in schools this fall, but not all local districts are following suit so far.

Driving the news: The Minnesota Department of Health issued new back-to-school guidance Wednesday, encouraging mask use indoors for students and teachers regardless of vaccination status.

  • Unlike last year, the state won't mandate mask use. Decisions will be up to local districts and school boards.

The big picture: States and school districts across the nation are grappling with how to handle the return to the classroom amid new concerns about the fast-spreading Delta variant.

  • Public health officials, including at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, say masking at school will protect kids under 12, who can't yet get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Yes, but: Masking policies have been met with backlash from some parents in Minnesota and beyond.

State of play: Many districts had been waiting for guidance from MDH to issue a decision for the fall, Gary Lee, deputy executive director of Minnesota School Board Association, told us. Here's a look at the range of approaches so far:

  • Required: Rochester's public school board approved a mandate for children ages 2 to 12 on Tuesday. Masks are recommended, but not required, for staff. Duluth, meanwhile, will mandate masks for grades five and below, as well as for staff working with those students.
  • Optional: Anoka-Hennepin, the state's largest district, isn't mandating masks, but it does recommend use regardless of vaccination status. Masks will also be optional at South Washington County Schools.
  • Still mulling: Minneapolis Public Schools and St. Paul School District haven't announced their policies. Decisions should be released in the coming weeks.

The bottom line: Officials say the current approach allows districts to craft rules based on the state of their virus in their area.

  • But it also creates a hodgepodge of policies across the state — and leaves local leaders and school board members to bear the brunt of any public backlash during an already turbulent time for education policy.
  • "At this point, it's going to be all over the board," Lee said.

Of note: Masks are still required on school buses under CDC rules on public transportation.

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Go deeper

NYC schools prepare for staffing shortages ahead of vaccine mandate deadline

Students are dismissed from the first day of school at PS 133 in the Brooklyn borough of New York on Sept. 13, 2021. Photo: Michael Nagle/Xinhua via Getty Images

Teachers and workers at New York City schools have until Monday to receive their COVID-19 vaccine before the city's mandate takes effect, prompting concerns over staffing shortages in schools across the city, ABC 7 reports.

Why it matters: About 6,000 teachers remain unvaccinated as the mandate's deadline looms, the New York Times reports.

Updated Sep 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Federal judge blocks vaccine mandate for NYC teachers

Students are dismissed from the first day of school at PS 133 in Brooklyn on Sept. 13. Photo: Michael Nagle/Xinhua via Getty Images

A federal appeals court is set to hear a challenge Wednesday to a vaccine mandate planned for New York City school employees.

Why it matters: The vaccine mandate was set to begin on Monday, prompting concerns over staffing shortages in schools across the nation's largest school system. But a judge on Friday temporarily blocked the measure, per AP.

Sep 26, 2021 - Health

New York prepares for staff shortages from health vaccine mandate

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul during a news conference Tuesday in New York City. Photo: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced Saturday she would declare a state of emergency if there were health worker shortages due to New York's upcoming COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Why it matters: Hochul moved to reassure concerns of staffing shortages in the health care sector in a statement that also outlined plans to call in medically trained National Guard members, workers from outside New York and retirees if necessary when the mandate takes effect Monday.