Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Thursday said that a fight over masking children could derail plans to reopen schools in the fall amid a new surge of COVID-19 cases.
Cardona said that orders in states that ban COVID-19 masks could get “in the way” and threaten the return to classrooms.
“You know what I’m worried about? The adult actions getting in the way of schools safely reopening,” Cardona said at a White House press briefing.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, banned schools from requiring masks. But some county school districts have mandated masks anyhow.
Cardona said that his message to DeSantis and Abbott is, “don’t be the reason why schools are interrupted, our kids have suffered enough. Let’s do what we know works.”
Teachers unions in the spring resisted reopening schools — more than a year after they shuttered due to the pandemic — saying that it wasn’t safe for them to return.
Children under age 12 aren’t yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines and the more transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 means more young people are being infected, unlike earlier in the pandemic, when infections among kids were less common.
Cardona said that the impact of masks on students’ learning will be “less than if they are at home.”
He said “when you wear masks, when you provide distancing, when you are testing regularly and when you’re quarantining, you can function in a school…. and we expect our students in the classroom every day.”
The federal education secretary has very little power over state and local school policies, but federal guidance can be influential. Cardona said his department is monitoring the conditions that could justify school closings.
“There are many local factors that contribute to whether or not a school should be open,” Cardona said. “We have a reopening team that’s focusing on the metrics of COVID spread [for] school reopening. We’re also monitoring the decisions that adults are making where politics are getting in the way and it’s putting students at risk.”