The heated debate about whether returning students should wear masks to school has moved from school boards into courtrooms.
At least 14 states have filed lawsuits against school masks. Sometimes, state leaders are fighting school administrators who normally enforce rules.
Experts say that although state laws are more important than local control, the legal arguments of mask supporters have a high chance of winning. But amid protests and even violence over masks around the United States, the court battle is just beginning.
Public schools have different mask rules. They are required in some states, while others prohibit them. Many others leave it up for individual districts.
The big school districts in Florida, Texas, and Arizona are suing governors to force them to use masks. Parents are worried about similar legislative bans in Utah, Iowa, and South Carolina.
In Missouri, Illinois and Michigan, there have been a slew of suits that can be worn under masks.
Parents, who are often frustrated or scared for their children during this unprecedented time, are at the heart of these debates. There were wins for mask advocates in Arizona and Arkansas, followed by back-toback rulings in two large states that went in opposite directions. A Texas Supreme Court refused to allow another school mask mandate to be implemented Thursday, while a Florida judge approved the rules Friday.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend universal mask wearing in schools. COVID-19 vaccines are not available to students 12 years old and under.
Republican officials opposing mask mandates say there are negatives to children being masked for long periods of time and that parents need to decide whether to use them on their children. Children are less susceptible to the virus than older adults.
But public health experts say masks are a key coronavirus-prevention tool that does not pose health risks for children older than toddler age, and truly effective when worn by a large number of people.
“The idea of parental autonomy to choose what is best for their child’s needs is not unlimited. It has never been unlimited within our system,” Ellen Clayton, a Vanderbilt Law School professor in Nashville, Tennessee, said.
Nationally, COVID-19 deaths have reached more than 1,200 per day. This is the highest rate since mid-March. The average number of cases per day is over 156,000, bringing the total back to January.