It’s been fourteen months since we last experienced life as we know it, and school is no exception. The last year has seen a total shut down of schools followed by exclusively remote learning, followed by distance-learning, hybrid learning, homeschooling, and what feels like a never-ending list of transitions as school districts exhaust all efforts to get back to “normal.”
In a surprise move this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its COVID-19 safety guidance for those who have been fully vaccinated.
According to the new guidelines, fully vaccinated adults can now safely gather indoors as well as outside without face masks or social distancing. Some exclusions apply, but generally speaking, those who are fully vaccinated are pretty much cleared to return to life as usual.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 13, 2021
The announcement came just one day after the CDC also approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children ages 12-15. Up until Wednesday, only those 16 and older were eligible for the vaccine.
With a whole new group of people, namely, kids, getting vaccinated in the coming weeks and months, what does that mean for schools moving forward? Well, a whole bunch of things—and much like the last year, none of it is cut and dry.
For starters, while vaccination expansion is certainly good news, it’s paired with a myriad of uncertainty for many parents across the nation.
Recent polling from the KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor found considerable vaccine hesitancy among the families of early adolescents. According to the poll, nearly a quarter said they would absolutely not vaccinate their child, while another quarter remained undecided. Only 30% of parents said their children would get shots as soon as possible, while another 18% said they would have their child vaccinated if schools require it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a statement recommending COVID-19 vaccinations for children 12 years and older, saying “vaccines are safe and effective in protecting individuals and populations against infectious diseases” and that “new vaccines are evaluated by a long-standing, rigorous, and transparent process.”
With all of that in mind, many parents are once again finding themselves in a weary place of uncertainty in light of the CDC’s updated guidelines on masks.
Although the revision is separate from the organization’s K-12 schools safety guidance, several school districts have already moved to adopt the new mask guidelines into their own in-school safety policies.
In many parts of the country where mask-wearing has been a social and political battle, parents and government officials want children to be able to return to school mask-less in the fall—regardless of their vaccination status.
“These kids do not need to be wearing these masks,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday.
Despite strong anti-mask opinions, the CDC maintains its position that masking is a key strategy for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
In some states, masks in schools are already optional.
“Whether a child wears a mask in school is a decision that should be left only to a student’s parents,” said South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster earlier this week as he issued an executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of school-based mask requirements.
A similar trend is also happening in Utah this week as several school districts are now allowing parents to sign a form that exempts their child from schools’ face mask requirements.
Widespread vaccinations and an end in sight to mask mandates would lead us to believe that we’re on the up and up when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. But as we’ve known all along, and as we’ve seen now in several other nations, a few small moves in the right direction doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods just yet.