Concerns About Bullying, Anxiety Follow Loosening of Mask Mandates

As COVID-19 cases continue to decrease, school systems are urging compassion and understanding for staff and students who choose to continue to wear face masks even if the district has dropped its masking requirements.

While many are eager to see the smiles behind the masks in schools again, school leaders, some of whom spent the past two school years responding to mask protests and litigation, are acknowledging not everyone will make an easy transition to maskless campuses — and some are upset about the change.

According to Burbio, a data company tracking mask policies in the country’s 500 largest school districts, 57.2%, or 286 of those districts, did not require masks as of  March 3. That has increased from data recorded Feb. 4 showing 35.2%, or 176 districts, did not require masks.

While the trend is moving toward widespread mask-optional rules, some districts are cautioning their communities that masks may be required in the future.

Emphasizing the need to respect individuals’ mask-wearing choices is one way school leaders can help their communities adjust to changing policies, school psychology experts say.

Several school systems are recognizing the emotional struggles with shifting mask policies because of the divisiveness masking has created during the pandemic. Although the CDC had until last week recommended indoor masking at schools, states and districts could set their own policies. Several states, such as Texas and Florida, prohibited districts from requiring masks in schools and sanctioned districts that did so anyway.

Litigation across the country regarding mask policies was filed by both mask opponents and advocates. Those opposing mask requirements argue their children’s constitutional rights are being violated. Those in favor of mask mandates call the precaution necessary to protect and accommodate students and staff with vulnerable health conditions.

The ACLU has, with disability rights advocacy groups, sued several states in opposition to their bans on mask mandates, alleging those policies exclude from public school students susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a federal law that protects students with disabilities from discrimination based on their disability.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating seven states — Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas and Utah — for their statewide prohibitions on mask mandates. The investigations are looking into whether those policies violated ​​Section 504.

If COVID-19 cases continue to decrease and more of the population lives in low- to moderate- risk areas, fights and disputes over masking will likely dissipate, said Jose Martín, an attorney with the Richards, Lindsay & Martín law firm in Austin, Texas, which represents school districts. Martín says his advice to clients is to look at the data for COVID-19 community levels when setting masking policy. In areas with low to moderate levels, it will be harder to justify mask requirements, he said.

Excerpted from “Concerns About Bullying, Anxiety Follow Loosening of Mask Mandates” in K-12 DIVE. Read the full article online.

Source: K-12 DIVE | Concerns About Bullying, Anxiety Follow Loosening of Mask Mandates, | © 2022 Industry Dive

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