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Biden Administration to Take on Governors Who Forbid Mask Mandates

Kids running while wearing face masks.

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Key Takeaways

  • President Joe Biden says he will help school districts that want to enforce mask mandates in states where they have been banned.
  • The Biden administration will help provide funds to compensate for penalties instituted by states for refusing to follow mask mandate bans.
  • Experts applaud the move and call for masking in schools.

President Joe Biden announced last week that he will help districts that have been forbidden from enacting mask mandates in school. Governors in several states, including Arizona, Florida, and Texas, have passed legislation banning schools from putting mask requirements in place.

“Unfortunately, as we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures—that is, children wearing masks in school—into political disputes for their own political gain,” Biden said in a speech on Wednesday. “Some are even trying to take power away from local educators by banning masks in school. They’re setting a dangerous tone.”

Biden said he’s spoken with school superintendents in Florida and Arizona “to thank them for doing the right thing and requiring masks in their schools.” He also added that he's directing the Secretary of Education “to take additional steps to protect our children. This includes using all of his oversight authorities and legal actions, if appropriate, against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local school officials and educators.”

Some school districts within these states have enforced mask mandates in their buildings anyway, including Florida’s Alachua and Broward districts.

On Friday, the Florida Board of Education gave the districts 48 hours to remove their mandates or face financial penalties. The board will begin withholding state funds from these schools each month that equal 1/12 of total annual salaries.

Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said that the mask mandates are "a blatant violation" of the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law in June. Both districts have kept their mask mandates in place.

“We’re not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children," Biden said. He noted that money from the American Rescue Plan can be used to pay educator salaries that governors try to dock due to COVID-19 policies.

Mask Recommendations in Schools

Currently, both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend universal masking in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

"In addition to protecting the child, the use of face masks significantly reduces the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory infections within schools and other community settings," the AAP states.

The AAP listed the following reasons when recommending universal masking in schools:

  • A significant portion of the student population is not eligible for vaccination
  • It protects unvaccinated students from COVID-19 and reduces transmission
  • It’s difficult to monitor vaccination status in students, teachers, and staff
  • The possibility of low vaccination uptake within the surrounding school community
  • Continued concerns for variants that are more easily spread among children, teens, and adults

The CDC cited the highly contagious Delta variant, which currently causes the vast majority of COVID-19 infections in the U.S., as the reason for universal masking.

What This Means For You

When sending your children to school this year, experts agree the best way to keep them safe is to have them wear masks. And if your child is over 12, make them a vaccine appointment here.

Face Masks Are Essential

Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Verywell that the continued fight over mask mandates in schools is a sign that the honor system recommended by the CDC in April when the agency announced that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks “failed miserably.”

“Everyone stopped wearing masks and most people who were wearing masks were the ones who were fully vaccinated,” he says. “Mask mandates get the unvaccinated to wear masks, and they help protect everyone.”

“Bans on allowing organizations and local governments to take public health action basically, in some jurisdictions, make it illegal to be safe,” Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Verywell.

Russo points out that leaving mask-wearing decisions to parents reduces it to a judgment call, adding that, “judgments during this pandemic have clearly been less than excellent.”

Mask mandates in schools, though, “will protect both our children and educators as well,” Russo adds. "It makes absolutely no sense to forbid mask mandates.”

“Masks reduce the transmission of a deadly virus,” Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Verywell. “The fact that some people are attaching political connotations to them is absurd and very unfortunate.”

Adalja anticipates that the president’s involvement in the school mask mandate fight will have a “marginal benefit” for the pandemic as a whole. “It’s up to the people to take individual responsibility and not wait for the government in order to take protective action,” he says.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools. July 18, 2021.

  2. Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. August 5, 2021.