Should schools require masks? Most parents say yes — but there are deep political divisions on the question


In the heated debate over whether schools should require masks as kids return to classrooms amid the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant, a new survey shows the majority of parents support the idea.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of parents say their child’s school should make unvaccinated students and staff wear a mask on school premises, according to the latest edition of a Kaiser Family Foundation survey tracking attitudes on COVID-19.

But focus closer on the differing demographics in the Wednesday poll of 1,259 parents and the political fractures become clear, as with so many other issues during the pandemic.

The large majority of Democratic-leaning parents (88%) and two-thirds of politically independent parents support school mask mandates. More than two-thirds of Republican-leaning parents (69%) oppose mask mandates.

Black and Hispanic parents back school masking rules, 83% and 76% respectively; that’s a greater rate than white parents, of whom just over half back the idea.

Vaccine mandates appear to be a less popular idea than mask mandates. The majority of all of the parents who were surveyed swung to ‘no’ when asked whether schools should require COVID-19 vaccination. 58% of parents said schools should not do that.

At this point, kids below age 12 are not eligible for vaccination. Children above that age can receive the Pfizer-BioNTech
PFE,
-3.83%
shot. Almost one third (30.6%) of teens age 12-15 and 41.6% of 16- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

To be sure, when it comes to vaccines in classroom, the big issue now isn’t rules for kids getting the shot. It’s about the adults.

On Wednesday, California was expected to announce that teachers and school employees in the state will have to either be vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing, according to Politico. Likewise, teachers in the New York City and Washington D.C. school systems will have vaccinations or weekly testing requirements.

The Kaiser poll comes just ahead of a school year that’s shaping up to be as contentious and difficult as last year — and masks are one of the biggest flashpoints while the highly transmissible delta variant surges.

Several Republican-leaning states, including Texas and Florida, have laws saying local school systems can’t force mask rules. Some school districts in those states are putting those laws to the test. Two Texas judges on Tuesday allowed schools in Bexar County, home to San Antonio, and the Dallas school system to keep up their mask mandates for now at least.

Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said school officials who enact their own mask mandates could miss out on their paycheck.

Some states, mostly Democratic-leaning, are going the opposite way and requiring masks in schools. The list includes New Jersey, California, Oregon and Illinois.

But it also includes Louisiana, a Republican-leaning state where COVID-19 cases have been flaring. The state’s mask mandate on all indoor facilities runs through the month, but could be extended if needed, said the office of Governor John Bel Edwards (who is a Democrat).

The latest CDC guidelines say everyone inside school should be masked, regardless of vaccination status. CDC guidelines are just suggestions, however, not enforceable rules.

One survey of school districts across the country last month found a 40% / 40% split of schools with and without mask requirements, with a remaining 20% undecided.

When asked if their child would get their shots, the latest Kaiser poll showed the parents in the “wait and see” category increased from June to July, going from 34% to 41%. The parents who said they would “definitely not” let their kids get the shot decreased to 20% from 25%.

The 20% “definitely not” mark is the same as it was in May and two percentage points below the 22% mark in April.

From the sounds of some parents in the survey, they will not budge. For example, an unnamed Black mother from Michigan explained why she is opposed to her child’s vaccination. “I feel as a parent this vaccine has not been tested enough…And my child is not a test dummy,” the survey quoted her saying. All of the vaccines are being administered under an emergency use authorization from the FDA; none has received full approval.

Indeed, vaccinated and unvaccinated parents who have unvaccinated kids share worries about the long term.

Almost nine in 10 parents (88%) say they are somewhat or very concerned about not enough being known about the lasting effects of the vaccine on children. 81% of vaccinated parents and 94% of unvaccinated parents felt that way.



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