Reason Roundup

Parents, Politicians, and School Administrators Battle Over Masks for Kids

Plus: Illinois schools prohibit hairstyle discrimination, Ann Arbor bans fur sales, and more....


Fights over masks in schools are heating up. Schools have become the locus of public health battles and political drama surrounding masks, with students caught as pawns in this pathetic battle. In an ideal world, both private and public schools could set their own local rules, based on the specific circumstances (coronavirus case levels, physical facility considerations, community wishes, student ages, etc.) with which they're grappling, and school choice programs would let disapproving parents easily send their kids elsewhere.

But we live in a world where many families are locked into one schooling option, and both local administrators and state authorities want dominion over kids' faces within that school. Hence, an increasing array of court battles concerning who gets to decide whether schools require masks.

In Texas—where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott declared it off-limits for school districts to independently make decisions about mask requirements and several districts declared an intent to defy him—the matter has spurred several legal battles. "A patchwork of lawsuits, temporary restraining orders and court hearings is sparking confusion over mask mandates as families prepare to send their children back to school," The Dallas Morning News reported yesterday. On Sunday, the Texas Supreme Court issued a temporary blow to Dallas and Bexar counties, which had announced plans to order school mask mandates in spite of Abbott's order.

On Tuesday, Disability Rights Texas filed the latest challenge against Abbott's mask mandate ban. "In spite of national and local guidance urging precaution, Governor Abbott's Executive Order prohibits local school districts from even considering whether to implement the most basic and effective COVID-19 prevention strategy in school settings," the suit complains, alleging that this prevents students with certain disabilities from safe schooling options.

Texas is one of nine states where school mask mandates have been banned, according to a USA Today analysis. Conversely, 12 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico say all schools must require masks, and New Mexico says masks are required for students who are unvaccinated.

Most states still allow flexibility; some 28 are leaving it up to local school districts.

But in states where mask mandates are mandatory or disallowed, many people have become quite acrimonious.

In Florida, a group of parents is challenging an executive order from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis forbidding schools from requiring masks. On Monday, the state filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. "The Governor and Surgeon General carefully balanced the legitimate state interests of school safety, educational well-being, and parental rights," the motion says.

"It is in the best interests of the State to empower Florida parents with the right to manage the healthcare of their children," the state argues. "This includes the freedom to choose whether they must be masked in public schools."

However, several large Florida school districts have announced plans to defy DeSantis' ban. Superintendents from Alachua and Broward County schools said this week "that their districts were complying with state law and attempting to provide safe learning environments for students. In both districts, students can be exempted from wearing a mask with a doctor's written recommendation," notes CBS News. In addition:

Florida's largest school district will likely require students to wear face masks when classrooms open next week, following the recommendation of a task force of medical experts. The Miami-Dade County School Board is expected to approve the measure Wednesday.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said his "mind is pretty made up on the way to move forward." …

Miami-Dade has the nation's fourth-largest school district with 334,000 students, while Broward is the sixth-largest district with 261,000 students.

Meanwhile, the state's Board of Education announced yesterday that these schools could be punished. "The board's penalties for school officials in those counties could range from withholding funding to removing school officials," The Washington Post reports.

In Arizona, the state legislature passed a law in June banning school mask mandates and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is using financial incentives to get school districts to comply. He told them on Tuesday that they're only eligible for federal COVID-19 relief grant funding if they open for in-person learning by August 27 and don't make students wear masks.

"Safety recommendations are welcomed and encouraged—mandates that place more stress on students and families aren't," Ducey said in a statement. "These grants acknowledge efforts by schools and educators that are following state laws and keeping their classroom doors open for Arizona's students."

Here's Arizona's state superintendent of public instruction's response:

Battles are also playing out between state authorities, local school authorities, and parents in Iowa, Tennessee, and South Carolina.


Illinois schools prohibit hairstyle discrimination:


Ann Arbor, Michigan, bans fur sales:

The city council unanimously voted Monday evening to become what the Humane Society said is the first city in the Midwest to prohibit the sale of new fur products. The rule allows retailers a year to phase out sales and offers some exemptions.

Used fur sales are OK. And the ban doesn't apply to tribal communities or cow, sheep and deer pelts.


• The American Civil Liberties Union and others are challenging Arizona abortion restrictions. "A coalition of doctors, medical groups and civil rights organizations have filed a lawsuit seeking to block new restrictions on abortion in Arizona before they take effect Sept. 29," AZ Central reports. "Originally signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey in April, the changes make it a crime to perform abortions based solely on genetic conditions like Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis."

• Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has COVID-19.

• In Florida's Hillsborough County, where students went back to school at the start of this month, "5,599 students and 316 employees in Hillsborough County Public Schools are in isolation or quarantine," the county announced Monday. "Isolation refers to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 while quarantine refers to those who have had close contact with a positive case."

• In Los Angeles County, "eight in 1,000 Los Angeles Unified students tested positive for the coronavirus in the two weeks leading up to the Monday start of the academic year," the Los Angeles Times reports. This amounts to an infection rate of 0.8 percent.

• Amazon spending now outpaces Walmart spending.