A conundrum: Two major health authorities differ on school masks

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Classroom. Credit: Pixabay.

What should schools do when two major health-related groups conflict on how to handle the face-mask issue as the new academic year looms and the COVID-19 pandemic continues?

Districts in Florida and elsewhere will have to figure that out, because as of Sunday, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all school teachers, staff and students age 2 and older and heading into the 2021-22 school year should continue to wear masks indoors at schools, regardless of COVID vaccination status.

The academy’s recommendation conflicts with a recent update from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states that masks should be worn indoors by all individuals who are age 2 and older, who are not fully vaccinated.

So the difference is vaccines. The CDC is essentially saying that vaccinated people don’t need masks.

The debate comes as a surge of variants — particularly the Delta variant — threaten residents in Florida and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, many school districts have already ditched mask mandates in favor of mask-optional policies. Some school districts never required masks even for the 2020-21 school year.

The Sunday update from the American Academy of Pediatric says that if there’s no COVID vaccine approved for students under the age of 12, and because it may be difficult for school districts to track vaccine status among students and teachers, everyone over the age of two should wear a mask in-doors at schools.

The upcoming school year is only weeks away, and millions of Florida students will not be vaccinated by the start of the fall semester of the 2021-22 school year because there’s vaccine for kid under age of 12.

Meanwhile, some Florida school districts decided to make masks optional before either the CDC or the American Academy of Pediatrics released their mask recommendations for the upcoming school year.

It’s not yet clear if there will be a problem among Florida school districts as they navigate contradictory mask recommendations from two national health organizations, or if the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that all staff and students where masks will affect current plans to make mask optional for the next school year.

The Phoenix reached out to a few school districts on their reactions to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations on masks.

The Pinellas County school district in South Florida provided this statement in an email: “At this time, masks/face coverings are optional for students, staff and visitors but strongly encouraged and recommended indoors. Any change to the face covering policy would require School Board action.”

A communications staffer with Sarasota County school district said that the local school board voted on July 13th to make masks optional schools and noted that “at this time, there are no plans to change the policy.”

The Orange County school district in Central Florida also voted on July 13 to make masks optional for the 2021-22 school year, according to a communications official from the district, but noted that the new policy states that: “In the event the CDC or other governmental entities issues updated guidance which mandates more restrictive face covering requirements, the School Board authorizes the Superintendent to implement the more restrictive face covering requirements in accordance with that guidance.”