As parents across the nation prepare to head back to school, questions about mask mandates linger. Many moms and dads are wondering: Does my child need to wear a mask for school? What are the rules for masks this year?
Ahead of the 2021-2022 school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for K-12 schools: Due to the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19, wearing masks indoors is recommended for ages 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status.
But not all states have mandated masks in schools. Here's a look at the school mask rules on a state-by-state basis. We'll keep updating this story, but since the situation keeps changing around the country, please check with your school or school district for the latest.
There is no statewide mandate, but the Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery, Bessemer and Opelika school systems have said that masks will be required for students.
“Here is the truth: Closing businesses will not defeat COVID-19. Wearing masks will not defeat COVID-19. And keeping our students from in-classroom learning will not defeat COVID-19,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece. “The good news is we have something that has proved helpful — safe and effective vaccines, which were developed in record time.”
There is no statewide mandate, but following guidance from the CDC, the Anchorage School District will require masks.
"The science tells us the new variant is highly contagious, is circulating around the globe, and is at a high rate in our community," Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop said in a letter to parents.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey banned mask mandates earlier this summer, but some schools have chosen to defy his order. Alhambra Elementary School District, Brophy College Preparatory, Creighton School District, Littleton Elementary School District, Madison School District, Osborn School District, Phoenix Elementary School District, Phoenix Union High School District, Roosevelt Elementary School District, Salpointe Catholic High School, and Washington Elementary School District will all require masks for back-to-school.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a law in April prohibiting schools from requiring masks, but is now working to lift that ban to allow schools to mandate face masks.
“Everything has changed now,” Hutchinson told the Associated Press. “And, yes, in hindsight, I wish that it had not become law.”
California will require all students to wear masks.
"Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction," California Health & Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said. "At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated — treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment."
An executive mask mandate for schools remains in effect until Sept. 30, and a new order from Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont stated that the state's Department of Public Health and Department of Education are in the process of reviewing and, if necessary, updating statewide policies requiring masks in schools.
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Delaware will require all students to wear masks.
"There's no higher priority than getting all Delaware children back in their classrooms full-time this fall,” Gov. John Carney said in a written statement. “This consistent, statewide approach will help students, educators and staff return to school safely and without disruption."
There is no statewide mask mandate. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said requiring students to wear masks “lacks a well-grounded scientific justification” in an executive order that prohibits school COVID-19 safety protocols from violating Floridians' parental rights to make health care decisions for their children. DeSantis' office also said salaries of officials who require masks for students may be withheld.
Despite DeSantis' executive order, Palm Beach, Orange, Broward, Duval and Hillsborough County Schools have all announced that masks will be required for the 2021-2022 school year.
There is no statewide mask mandate in Georgia.
"Georgia will not lock down or impose statewide mask mandates," Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted in late July. However, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an order requiring face masks for the city of Atlanta, which includes 103 school sites.
Hawaii will require all students to wear masks.
"Correct and consistent mask use is a core essential strategy to help prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19 in schools and the community. When people wear a mask correctly and consistently, they protect others as well as themselves," the Hawaii Department of Education website reads.
Idaho school mask mandates vary from district to district. Boise School District has reinstated a mask mandate.
“We know from last school year that face masks work to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Boise School Board President Dave Wagers said in a statement in early August. “We’re disappointed that we have been forced to take what feels like a step backwards, but our top priority is providing students with a high-quality education in a safe and effective learning environment.”
Illinois will require all students to wear masks.
"Given our current trajectory in hospitalizations and ICU usage, we have a limited amount of time right now to stave off the highest peaks of this surge going into the fall," Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement.
There is no statewide mask mandate, but some school districts have made the decision to have students wear masks, including Greater Clark County Schools, South Bend Community School Corporation and Richmond Community Schools.
There is no statewide mandate in Iowa regarding masks in schools.
"I believe in local control, and the ultimate local control is letting the parents and students make their own decisions in regards to their health," Iowa state Rep. Holly Brink, who worked on the law preventing schools to set mask mandates, said in a statement to KCCI.
There is no statewide mandate regarding masks in schools in Kansas. Wichita Public Schools, which enrolls nearly 10% of the state's K-12 students, will only encourage, but not require, students and staff to wear masks.
On Aug. 10, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced a mask mandate for all schools K-12.
“We have changed in the blink of an eye, from a quiet, calm state to a horribly inflamed state,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said. “Our recommendation mirrors the CDC, which is flat and simple. Everyone in the K-12 setting in indoors spaces should wear a mask. Period.”
On Aug. 2, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards reinstated a statewide mask mandate which requires everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors, including in schools.
There is not a statewide mask mandate in Maine, but Maine's largest school district is planning to make universal masking a requirement for all students. The school board will vote on new rules on Aug. 17.
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There is no statewide mask mandate for schools in Maryland, but Anne Arundel, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and St. Mary’s County Public Schools will all start the school year wearing masks.
In Massachusetts, mask mandates will be left up to individual school districts, despite a July 30 joint memorandum from the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Department of Public Health that recommended masking.
"This fall, DESE and DPH strongly recommend that all students in kindergarten through grade 6 wear masks when indoors, except students who cannot do so due to medical conditions or behavioral needs," the memorandum read. "DESE and DPH also strongly recommend that unvaccinated staff in all grades, unvaccinated students in grades 7 and above, and unvaccinated visitors wear masks indoors."
Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services released COVID-19 guidelines that strongly encourage the wearing of masks in schools, but there is not a statewide mandate and districts remain divided. Detroit Public School Community District issued a mask mandate on Aug. 9.
The state of Minnesota does not require masks in schools, but state health and education officials recommend schools districts mandate indoor mask wearing in their most recent guidance for reopening schools.
In accordance with the CDC, the state's guide reads, "Universal indoor masking is recommended for all people in the school setting (ages 2 years and older), including teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status."
There is not a statewide mask mandate for students in Mississippi, though some districts across the state will require face coverings for the 2021-2022 school year.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said in late July the CDC's updated guidance on mask wearing "has nothing to do with rational science."
Missouri does not have a statewide mask mandate and the state's updated guidelines recommend that “policies regarding masks should be made at the discretion of the local boards of education.”
Montana does not have a statewide mask mandate, but has recommended universal indoor masking for all students.
There is no statewide mandate in Nebraska for masks in schools. Omaha Public Schools, the largest public school district in the state, will require students to wear masks indoors, as will the Lincoln, Grand Island, Ralston and Westside districts. In the Millard, Papillion La Vista and Bellevue school districts, masks are optional.
Nevada will require all K-12 students in Washoe and Clark counties to wear masks. All students statewide must wear masks on school buses as well.
There is no statewide mandate.
"At this point, there is no need for students to be wearing masks. The numbers are just that low," New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu told NBC Boston in July. "The CDC and pediatric groups are telling that all kids have to wear masks. We're not at that place here in New Hampshire. We're really not."
New Jersey will require all students to wear masks.
“We understand that students learn best in a classroom setting and remain committed to having our schools open for full-time, in-person instruction this fall,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a written statement. “While this announcement gives us no pleasure, I know that by taking this precaution we can keep our schools open while also keeping our children safe.
The New Mexico Public Education Department's updated guidance states that middle and high school students will not be required to wear masks if they are fully vaccinated. Masks will be required for students at the elementary schools regardless of vaccination status.
New York will require all students to wear masks, and all staff will be required to get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper "strongly advises" that school leaders adopt the mask guidelines outlined in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit that was updated to reflect CDC recommendations, but there is not a formal mandate in place.
There is no statewide mask mandate in North Dakota.
"It is government’s role to guide the public by providing them the science, facts, and data to make their own educated decisions. I will not be issuing any statewide directive either requiring or prohibiting masks in our schools," North Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem tweeted. "Changing CDC guidelines don’t help ensure the public’s trust. I expect our schools to remain focused on in-person learning for students this fall."
Ohio will not issue a statewide mask mandate for schools, and Gov. Mike DeWine has reiterated that the state's school guidelines surrounding COVID-10 mitigation efforts are recommendations — not mandates. Despite this, the Columbus, Cleveland and Akron public school districts will mandate masks for all students and staff this fall regardless of their vaccination status.
There is no statewide mask mandate for schools in Oklahoma.
"This is about personal responsibility," Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said at a press conference in Tulsa in late July. "This is about freedoms."
Oregon will require masks in schools statewide.
"My priority is to ensure our kids are able to safely return to full-time in-person learning this fall, five days per week and with minimal disruptions," Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement. "With many children still ineligible to be vaccinated, masks are an effective way to help keep our kids safe in the classroom, the learning environment we know serves them best."
There is no statewide mask mandate for schools in Pennsylvania, and Gov. Tom Wolf said there are no plans for one.
“I think the school districts in Pennsylvania have to decide what they want to do,” Wolf told PennLive.
According to Rhode Island's 'Back2SchoolRI' resources page, sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Education, "Masks are required in the K-12 setting, even when students are in stable groups and socially distanced (greater than 6 feet apart)."
There is no statewide mandate for masks in schools.
"State law now prohibits school administrators from requiring students to wear a mask. The General Assembly agreed with me — and that decision is now left up to the parents," Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted. "The Delta Variant poses a real threat to South Carolinians. However, shutting our state down, closing schools and mandating masks is not the answer. Personal responsibility is."
Although there is no statewide mask mandate, the Brookings, Huron, Mitchell, Rapid City, Sioux Falls O’Gorman, Sioux Falls Christian, Vermillion and Yankton school districts will all require masks for back-to-school.
There is no statewide mask mandate for schools. Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said masks are a "local decision" during a July 26 visit to Lowrance K-8 School in Shelby County.
There is no statewide mask mandate in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott has prohibited mask mandates in schools and government buildings, as well as any capacity limits or vaccine mandates.
There is no statewide mask mandate in Utah.
“I’m grateful that there are people who are willing to sacrifice and wear masks again to protect the unvaccinated,” Gov. Spencer Cox said. “I gotta be honest with you, I don’t know if I’m one of those people. I'm really tired. I'm really done with it."
Vermont Public Radio reported that Gov. Phil Scott announced his intentions for kids to go back to school with masks, regardless of vaccination status, but that once the state reaches 80% vaccination status for eligible students, masks will only be required for the unvaccinated.
On Aug. 12, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a universal mask mandate for K-12 schools.
“We all share the same goal of keeping our schools open and keeping our students safe,” said Gov. Northam in a news release announcing the mandate. “That’s why the General Assembly passed this law with overwhelming bipartisan support. This Public Health Order makes it very clear that masks are required in all indoor K-12 settings, and Virginia expects all schools to comply. I’m grateful to the work of the General Assembly and the Health Department, and I look forward to a safe start to the school year.”
Washington state will require all students to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.
District of Columbia Public Schools will require all students to wear masks.
“With collaboration, transparency, and a commitment to health & safety, we will ensure our buildings remain safe and healthy spaces for engaging and joyful learning experiences,” DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said in an announcement.
There is no statewide mask mandate for schools, and West Virginia Superintendent of Schools, Clayton Burch, said mask requirements will be up to each individual county in West Virginia in updated school opening guidelines for fall 2021.
There is no statewide mask mandate for schools.
"The wearing of face masks by students and staff is a district decision," stated an updated document of mitigation measures for Wisconsin schools that was released on Aug. 4.
There is no statewide mask mandate for schools.
“My focus is on supporting local school boards as they take into account conditions in their community and work to assure students learn safely this year too,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in a statement released Aug. 4.
This is a developing story that will be updated.