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School masks covid: The 3 largest districts plan to require masks. But other big districts can't issue mask mandates

CNN logo CNN 7/26/2021 By Elizabeth Stuart, CNN
a group of people standing on a sidewalk: Students wearing masks head to lunch during summer school at Hooper Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles on June 23. © Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images Students wearing masks head to lunch during summer school at Hooper Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles on June 23.

With the start of school rapidly approaching, whether students will have to wear masks will largely depend on where they live.

The nation's three largest school districts -- New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago -- will require masks in schools. Among the top 12 districts in the country, all are requiring masks except those in Florida and Texas, where the governors have banned mask mandates in schools.

Overall, at least 14 of the 30 largest US school districts are making masks optional for students in school, while another 13 are requiring masks. As of Monday, three districts are undecided.

School districts have indicated they may change their guidance according to local public health conditions even after the school year starts.

Chicago Public Schools tweeted that "masks will be worn by all in schools" when in-person classes return August 30. Schools will maintain physical distancing of 3 feet where possible and will keep their cleaning and sanitizing measures in place, according to a release.

Public school districts in Philadelphia; Fairfax County, Virginia; Hawaii; Prince George's County, Maryland; San Diego, Shelby County, Tennessee; and DeKalb County, Georgia will also require masks.

In Jefferson County, Kentucky, masks will only be required to be worn by students who are unvaccinated.

Two districts in North Carolina, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County, will only require masks until the end of July -- at which point a new decision will be made before the school year begins.


Video: Kids protest masks during heated Illinois school board meetings (CNN)

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The majority of the districts making mask-wearing optional in schools are in Florida and Texas, where the governors issued executive orders that ban mask mandates in school but don't prevent students from wearing a mask if they want to.

For now, masks are optional in the Florida counties of Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach, Duval, Pinellas and Polk. One other Florida county, Broward, will decide its policy at its next school board meeting July 27.

Masks are also optional in Houston, Dallas, Cypress-Fairbanks and Northside Independent School Districts in Texas.

Over the last week, Florida leads the nation and Texas is third in the averages of daily new cases. Florida reported more than 45,000 new cases, and Texas reported more than 32,000 new cases in the past week, according to a CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis indicated on Thursday he would challenge the federal government or any local district that tries to make masks mandatory.

"There's been talk about potentially people advocating at the federal level, imposing compulsory masks on kids," DeSantis said. "We're not doing that in Florida, OK? We need our kids to breathe. We need our kids to be able to be kids."

Masks are also optional in Gwinnett County, the largest school district in Georgia; Cobb County, Georgia; and Baltimore County, Maryland.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, masks are required for summer school, and "tentative mask guidance" for the school year will be announced in August, according to the school district. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's statewide face covering mandate was lifted as of July 1.

Clark County, Nevada, the nation's fifth largest district, had put out earlier guidance for its summer school program that mask usage would be based on grade level, with masks optional for grades K-3, required for grades 4-5, and optional for grades 6-12.

"Regarding the upcoming school year, which begins August 9, we are still reviewing policies in conjunction with local health officials," a Clark County district representative told CNN on Friday.

The district did not make it clear when its guidance would be updated.

Correction: An earlier headline and version of this story overstated the number of the 20 largest school districts that are making masks optional for students. The story also incorrectly described the policy on masks in Montgomery County, Maryland. Masks are required for summer school and "tentative mask guidance" for the school year will be announced in August, according to the school district.

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