Schools confront polarization over COVID mask rules amid delta variant spread

Coronavirus

FILE – In this May 18, 2021 file photo, fifth graders wearing face masks are seated at proper social distancing during a music class at the Milton Elementary School in Rye, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

With COVID-19 cases soaring nationwide, school districts across the U.S. are yet again confronting the realities of a polarized country and the lingering pandemic as they navigate mask requirements, vaccine rules and social distancing requirements for the fast-approaching new school year.

Students in Wichita, Kansas, public schools can ditch the masks when classes begin. Detroit public schools will probably require them only for the unvaccinated. In Pittsburgh, masks will likely be required regardless of vaccination status. And in some states, schools cannot mandate face coverings under any circumstances.

The spread of the delta variant and the deep political divisions over the outbreak have complicated decisions in districts from coast to coast. In a handful of conservative states, lawmakers have banned districts from requiring masks despite outcry from medical professionals. Schools are weighing a variety of plans to manage junior high and middle school classrooms filled with both vaccinated and unvaccinated students.

School officials say decisions about whether to require masks have been complicated not only by community pressure and the delta variant but also conflicting advice from public health officials.

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