WASHINGTON—The Debate About whether children should wear face masks in classrooms to prevent the spread of the coronavirus took a new turn on Tuesday, with Randi Weingarten, head of the influential American Federation of Teachers, saying she favors exposure, provided certain statistics were met.
“I think we should talk about the exit for masks,” Weingarten said during a performance on MSNBC† “Nobody wants masks in schools,” she added moments later. “No teachers, no students.”
Weingarten added that she was waiting for the new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She wrote to the agency and Education Minister Miguel Cardona in November, requesting that “start a transparent process and work with educators and parents on the benchmarks and standards for easing requirements for indoor masks without sacrificing.” to safety.”
No response was received from the Biden administration to Weingarten’s letter.
Any plan to expose children in the fall was shelved with the arrival of the highly transmissible Omicron strain of the virus, forcing schools across the country to temporarily close in January. Now that the schools are open, whether children with masks should learn has become an urgent issueone that has confronted local officials and the White House equal.
The CDC did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did the National Education Association, another powerful teachers’ union. His head, Becky Pringle, has generally taken a cautious stance on the reopening of schools†
The complexity of public education — in which state, local and federal imperatives often clash, as do those of unions, parents, inspectors and children — means that a coherent approach to masking at the national level is virtually impossible. For example, some Republican-led states have banned masks outright.
Weingarten, a skilled political operator who is fluent in both labor dynamics and national trends, made her comments a day after Democratic governors in New Jersey and Delaware moved to end mandatory masking, allowing individual districts to make their own decisions. The issue has become a growing problem for parents, even as some educators insist that masks protect them and their students.
With immunization rates among teachers high and the Omicron wave apparently waning across much of the country, some believe the time is right to rethink the controversial universal mandate.
But others say that given the fluctuating vaccination rates across the country — and the low uptake of booster shots — it’s not the right time to forgo masks.
“It’s shortsighted to say things are normal when they’re anything but,” Boston University public health expert Julia Raifman told Yahoo News in a telephone interview. “We know that COVID spreads in crowded spaces, including schools. We know that masks reduce the spread.”
A study published last fall by the CDC showed that schools in Arizona that implemented universal masking saw far fewer cases of coronavirus than schools where students were exposed. Some however, questioned the methodology and conclusions of that study†
Last month’s Omicron peak saw a record number of children hospitalized, but infection rates are falling across the country, and the conversation about masks in schools has become almost inevitable for educators. Whether that conversation ends in bitterness is another question.