As school districts across the country prepare to welcome back students for full time in-person learning, some states are planning to require mask-wearing for all students; while in other states, executive orders have been signed to ban school districts from enacting mask mandates.
The ever-changing rules, combined with a decision by many states to leave it to school districts to decide locally, is confusing parents, teachers and students.
Six states have announced that they will require K-12 students to wear masks in school, regardless of their vaccination status:
- New Mexico
- New York
"All school personnel, volunteers, visitors, and students must wear cloth face coverings or an acceptable alternative (e.g., surgical mask) at school when indoors regardless of vaccination status," according to guidance from Washington's Department of Health, which was updated earlier this month.
However, in Washington, masks are not required outdoors — the varying rules adding to confusion over when masks are required versus not required.
On Monday, California quickly reversed its school mask policy after announcing that students who arrived at school without a mask on would be turned away.
For now, the state will leave decisions on masks up to the districts.
"California's school guidance will be clarified regarding masking enforcement, recognizing local schools' experience in keeping students and educators safe while ensuring schools fully reopen for in-person instruction," the California Department of Public Health tweeted.
Even among the states requiring masks, there's indication policies are still in flux.
New Mexico is standing by its guidance issued in April for now, in which masks are required for all students in school. But New Mexico's Public Education Department is revisiting its policy now that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance.
"We expect our updated guidance, which will be announced upon completion, to align closely with the CDC's recommendations and to continue making the health and safety of children a priority," the department said in a statement to CNN.
Where health officials stand: The CDC updated its guidance for schools earlier this month, recommending that unvaccinated individuals over the age of two wear a mask when indoors, but saying that people generally do not need masks outdoors.
"Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained," the CDC guidance said.
Despite that guidance, seven states have enacted legislation that would ban districts from requiring masks in school, according to CNN's analysis. Those states are: Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Vermont.
To make matters even more complicated, two states — Illinois and Michigan — have statewide policies declaring that masks are required only for unvaccinated students. With Covid-19 vaccines only approved for children 12 years old and up, that means you could have junior high and middle schools where a combination of vaccinated and unvaccinated students are in classes together.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post included Delaware on the list of states requiring masks in school. As of last week, Delaware's state of emergency order expired, and there is no longer a state mask requirement. For now, the decision on requiring masks will be left to local school districts.