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Take off the mask Science guides COVID-19 response as schools reopen

Despite the evidence, back to school means a return to masks for some children again this year, and parents and educators still lack evidence that mask policies keep students or teachers safe.

On the contrary, the experience of the past two years has taught us that teachers’ unions and other education interest groups, not science, are driving schools’ responses to COVID-19. .

This means that political power is a bigger concern than student health and success.

Today, the primary concern of parents, teachers and policy makers must be student learning.

Commentators and analysts on both sides of the ideological divide have called the prolonged school closures “disastrous”, “catastrophic”, and “strict“, among other epithets.

To research discovered significant learning losses among K-12 students over the past two years, with greater academic setbacks for children who were forced out of class for longer periods by compared to those who returned to in-person learning earlier.

Some project that learning losses will be greater for students who were already falling behind before the pandemic, a prediction that should surprise no one. Learning losses do not point directly to mask mandates, but these requirements are part of a litany of policies that distract from student success.

However, school officials in Jefferson CountyKentucky, the state’s largest school district, and educators in Philadelphia are among those who continue to mask warrants to start the school year. Other school administrators from Fairfax CountyVirginia and some California school districts either started the year with a mask mandate or are considering a mandate now.

From Wednesdaythe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified more than a third of counties in the United States as areas with high transmissionincluding some of the largest school districts in the country, such as Miami’s.

The CDC continues to recommend school mask mandates in these counties. However, Americans have reason to doubt the scientific basis of these decisions.

Politics has become inseparable from school health policies. In March, Republicans in Congress issued a report confirming what many have long suspected: teachers’ unions colluded with White House and CDC officials to draft federal guidelines that kept schools closed, despite evidence showing children were least affected by the virus .

Agency officials recently pledged to reform the CDC, saying what every American has recognized by now: The agency “lost its purpose” and experienced “multiple failures” during the pandemic.

For these reasons, along with a lack of reliable evidence for some pandemic responses, the CDC has damaged its credibility on school mask mandates. School officials are much less likely today than they were last fall to adopt the agency’s recommendations.

This is a good thing for parents who will have more freedom to make their own decisions regarding the well-being of their children.

Many school officials appropriately make decisions for themselves. According to Burbio, a data service that aggregates school and community data, only 1.8% of the 500 largest school districts it tracks have such mandates in place. Last fall, nearly three-quarters of those districts required students to wear masks.

School districts across the United States are ignoring CDC school masking guidelines. Part of this is due to declining levels of public anxiety about COVID-19. But it is also linked to the agency’s inability to establish a solid basis for its recommendations.

Consider: A widely cited study published last September in the CDC’s flagship journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found that “school masking requirements [were] associated with lower daily case rates of pediatric COVID-19.

But one preprint accepted for publication by The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, replicated and extended the methodology of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report study and came to the opposite conclusion.

The Lancet study authors looked at schools in the 565 counties included in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report study. They found that while schools that mandated masks had lower cases of pediatric COVID-19 after three weeks, that difference disappeared after six weeks.

Expanding the sample to 1,832 counties, they found no difference in pediatric case rates between schools with mask mandates and those without.

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report declined to publish the study, although it used the same methods as the study published by the journal last September.

Americans should remember that while school authorities do not require masks, educators and students can still choose to wear face coverings. But public officials don’t have the research evidence to require everyone to wear masks.

However, educators have enough research to prioritize student success. This has been one of the sad victims of the pandemic so far, but we can still fix it if we put children before politics.

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