Most educators say they won’t mask this fall
Eighty-five percent of educators no longer plan to wear a mask regularly at school this fall, but teachers are more likely than administrators to continue wearing masks.
That’s according to a new nationally representative survey conducted by research center EdWeek of 1,042 teachers, principals and district leaders. The survey was conducted from July 27 to August 8, as COVID-19 cases across the country increased. The latest surge is caused by the BA.5 variant of the virus, which is highly transmissible and able to evade previous immunity.
Even so, most school districts and all US states have dropped their mask requirements for students and staff., leaving the choice to individuals. Nearly half of educators said they don’t plan to wear a mask this fall. 36% said they would only wear one under certain circumstances, such as not feeling well. Only 12% of educators plan to wear a mask regularly without it being mandatory.
“A lot of people are done with it,” said Dave Richards, a high school teacher in Jefferson County, Ky.
But a breakdown of the results shows a significant difference in the behavior of teachers compared to administrators.
Only 44% of teachers said categorically that they would not wear a mask, compared to 55% of headteachers and 56% of district heads. Teachers were also slightly more likely than administrators to say they would wear a mask in certain circumstances, such as if they were not feeling well.
Fifteen per cent of teachers said they will wear a mask this fall even though it is not compulsory, compared to 8% of headteachers and 8% of district heads.
This discrepancy is true in rural or urban areas, where mask-wearing is often less common than elsewhere in the country. There, nearly half of teachers said adamantly they were not planning to wear a mask, compared to 67% of headteachers and 61% of district heads.
Some teachers find this difference in behavior unsurprising: “We’re in the trenches,” said Cameron Mitchell, a 6th-grade science teacher in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas.
While administrators, especially at the district level, often work alone in their offices or with other adults, teachers come into close contact with a large group of children. High school teachers, in particular, can see over a hundred different students throughout the day.
Masks may protect against COVID-19, but educators are tired
Vaccines, boosters, and antiviral medications have helped prevent serious illness for most people who contract the BA.5 variant, although with each infection comes the potential for long-lasting COVID-persistent symptoms of fatigue, “brain fog” and other conditions that can last for weeks or months. Scientists are still studying the prevalence and risk factors for the disease.
Additionally, the virus could continue to disrupt the functioning of schools as it did in the winter of this year.administrators scrambling to find replacements if multiple educators in a school building are sick and need to be quarantined.
Public health experts say well-fitting, high-quality masks can protect against the variant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking in public places, including schools, in areas with high community levels of COVID-19, though he stops short of saying that schools in those communities should enforce universal masking. As of Aug. 12, nearly 42% of counties had high levels of transmission, a measure that takes into account hospital capacity and severe illness rates.
Even so, many Americans are weary of pandemic restrictions and eager to get back to normal. And masks are one of the most visible reminders of the pandemic.
The school system in Jefferson County, Kentucky is one of the few large school districts in demanding universal masking this year – a move that has been widely unpopular among teachers. The Jefferson County Teachers Association surveyed its members and found that 52% of members oppose masking, 38% support masking, and 10% are neutral or have no opinion.
Richards, the high school teacher there, noted that the school district is the only place in the county that requires masking, making the mandate “futile” when it comes to containing the spread.
Masks can also be uncomfortable for teaching. Teachers said projecting their voices so they could be heard through the mask gave them sore throats and vocal tension. Some also say they feel the masks hinder their ability to connect with students, who cannot see their facial signs and smiles.
Early primary school teachers and students learning English are particularly concerned. Masks can get in the way of reading instruction, as students watch as teachers model the correct tongue placement and mouth formation as they pronounce letters and words, educators said. English language learners also watch their teachers’ mouths during pronunciation lessons.
Most educators are vaccinated, past surveys show, which may also contribute to the decision to unmask.
Linda DeBerry, principal of an elementary school in Dyersburg, Tennessee, said she was vaccinated and received two boosters. She no longer feels the need to mask up unless there is high community spread or if she needs to be extra careful, as was the case before scheduled surgery that required her to be tested for COVID- 19 negative.
Some teachers feel safer with masks
Still, some educators say they will continue to wear a mask, even though they may be among the only ones in their school building to do so.
Several teachers who continue to mask said they did so because they were pregnant or had another medical condition that put them at higher risk of serious illness, had a child at home too young to be vaccinated, or protected high-risk family members. Some are simply reluctant to get sick, and still others say their decisions are informed by personal experience.
Anita Chakraborty-Spotts, a middle and high school teacher at Peak to Peak Charter School near Denver, wore a mask every day last year, but thinks she contracted the virus anyway at school and took him home with his son and her husband. Her husband, who was previously healthy, became seriously ill and had to be intubated. He now suffers from long COVID with persistent cognitive dysfunction, Chakraborty-Spotts said, and he has to do breathing treatments every six hours and wear a heart monitor.
She will continue to wear a mask this year to try to protect her family, as well as her students and colleagues.
“I really don’t want other families going through what we went through,” she said. “I’m trying to communicate that we need to be as precautionary as possible in our measures, as COVID is still ongoing.”
Jackie Schacht, a high school teacher in upstate New York, said she plans to wear a mask for at least the first two months of the school year in solidarity with the few students still masking. .
“One of my biggest driving factors is going to be their comfort and wanting to show them that they’re not alone,” she said of her decision.
Schacht, who has her own children, is a member of online parent groups, and she’s seen posts from parents who say their kids are feeling peer pressure to throw away their masks. Parents wrote that it helps when the child’s teacher, at least, wears a mask.
“Some of my older kids are very comfortable with themselves, but you can tell others — not so much, they’re easily swayed by the kids around them,” Schacht said. “If I don’t mind masking already, and depending on the day I feel more comfortable doing it, why not do it all the time?”
Mitchell, the middle school teacher in Texas, said he didn’t always wear a mask when he was in front of the class, but put one on when he walked around the room and engaged in one-on-one conversations with students. This extra precaution helps her feel more comfortable getting close to a student while they are helping her with her work.
There’s also another, lighter benefit to wearing a mask: It protects him from any nasty smells while teaching middle schoolers, an age group not exactly renowned for obsessive cleanliness. Mitchell has a bag of freshly laundered reusable face masks that he dips into, especially after lunch or PE class.
“It helps me get through the day when I smell Gain in my nostrils,” he joked.