A new Fintech Zoom analysis has found that at least nine states — Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Vermont — have enacted legislation that prohibits districts from requiring masks in schools. The list of schools banning mask mandates has been constantly changing, but so far they are all states with Republican governors.
While there are some differences between the policies in each state, they all point to the same debate at the heart of efforts to return to in-person instruction: Who gets to decide whether to mandate masks in schools — state politicians or local school officials?
In Utah and Iowa, the governors signed bills passed by the legislatures, cementing the bans on school mask mandates into law. However, in response to concerns that the bill in Utah oversteps local control, it does include a provision allowing schools to require masks during outbreaks only if the decision is made in collaboration with local health departments.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster was the first to issue an executive order preventing schools from issuing mask mandates.
These different state laws prohibiting mask mandates in schools conflict with guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Still, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ stricter position is “reasonable,” Fauci said.
“When you have a degree of viral dynamics in the community, and you have a substantial proportion of the population that is unvaccinated, you really want to go the extra step, the extra mile, to make sure that there’s not a lot of transmission, even breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals,” Fauci said. “For that reason, you can understand why the American Academy of Pediatrics might want to do that — they just want to be extra safe.”
There are some states — including Connecticut, Hawaii, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and Washington — that follow the AAP guidance to require masks among K-thru-12 students regardless of their vaccination status.
Even among the states requiring masks, there’s indication policies are still in flux.
“We expect our updated guidance, which will be announced upon completion, to align closely with the CDC’s recommendations and to continue making the health and safety of children a priority,” NMPED said in a statement to Fintech Zoom.
Overall, Fauci said that different recommendations can “indeed cause a bit of confusion.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated California’s mask policy. The state will require masks for now but leave decisions on how to handle enforcement up to the districts.