Despite a new COVID-19 variant that has led to another surge in cases, mask mandates are continuing to loosen in school districts getting ready to open for the new school year.
A new wave of cases tied to omicron subvariant BA.5 is expected to go on for the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, Mara Aspinall, a professor of practice at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions and COVID-19 testing advisor to the Rockefeller Foundation, told K-12 Dive last week.
Overall, districts upholding mask mandates into the new school year appear to be in the minority. As of Monday, six of the top 500 districts — or 1.2% — are requiring masks, according to data tracking company Burbio. By comparison, 369 of 500 districts (73.8%) required masks in October of 2021, Burbio found.
An injunction challenging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate ban in schools was recently thrown out after a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the state. Opponents of the ban said it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and put students in schools without mask mandates at an increased risk of experiencing severe symptoms or complications from COVID-19.
“There is no way to understand plaintiffs’ trial evidence as establishing COVID-19 infections are ‘certainly impending’ in schools without mask mandates, but not in schools mandating masks,” according to the July 25 ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in overturning a lower court ruling and vacating its injunction on the Texas mask mandate ban.
Meanwhile, Chicago Public Schools’ CEO Pedro Martinez said on July 27 he will continue to “strongly recommend,” but not require, masks for the 2022-23 school year, according to the Chicago Tribune. CPS stopped enforcing a mask mandate in March, and Martinez said not much will change in COVID-19 mitigation strategies for the new school year.
Over the summer, Detroit Public Schools Community District lifted its mask mandate, which had been in place since September 2020, Chalkbeat reported. Masks will continue to be optional in the district going into the new school year, as well.