COVID-19 and Schools

CDC: Masks Not Required for Vaccinated Teachers, Students

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidelines for COVID-19 prevention in K–12 schools on Friday. The health organization announced that fully vaccinated teachers and students will not be required to wear masks inside school buildings. The CDC website calls vaccination “the leading public health prevention strategy” to end the pandemic, and it continues to recommend masks for individuals who are not fully vaccinated, as well as at least 3 feet of distance between students when in the classroom.

Children as young as 12 years old are now eligible for the COVID vaccine. For students younger than 12, the CDC recommends “layers of protection” including masks, social distancing, hand-washing, and suggestions of weekly COVID testing.

“We’re at a new point in the pandemic that we’re all really excited about,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, leader of the CDC task force that issues recommendations regarding the coronavirus policy. She said that this new point is what prompted the CDC to relax its restrictions.

However, the CDC stopped short of advising schools to require vaccines for teachers and eligible students before returning to school. It also did not elaborate on how teachers can know which students are vaccinated and which aren’t—nor how parents can know which teachers are vaccinated.

“It would be a very weird dynamic, socially, to have some kids wearing masks and some not,” said Elizabeth Stuart, a Johns Hopkins University public health professor. “And tracking that? Teachers shouldn’t need to be keeping track of which kids should have masks on.”

The Associated Press noted several other complications with the new policy. One involves middle schools, where some students are eligible for vaccines while others aren’t. Instead of sorting students into “vaccinated” and “unvaccinated” classrooms, districts may choose to require masks for all. Similarly, different states have instituted different mandates. Virginia and California, for example, will require all students to mask up at school. Arizona and Texas, on the other hand, have forbidden public institutions from instituting a mask mandate.

CDC guidance is not a legal mandate. Local governments and school districts retain the authority to require masks across the board—or to not require them at all. It’s also up to local officials to decide whether to require proof of vaccination, as well as the logistics of doing so. Sauber-Schatz said that areas with high community spread are highly advised to add mitigation strategies like requiring masks for everyone, vaccinated or not. She said their ultimate guidance is for schools to make decisions that make the most sense.

“The guidance is really written to allow flexibility at the local level,” Sauber-Schatz said.

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning. He can be reached at [email protected].