“I want my child to go to school free and unmasked,” a woman shouted at a union official in Broward County last week, as protesters held up signs that said “My Body, My Choice” and “Masks = Child Abuse.” Broward County voted to require masks despite the governor’s order.
The rhetoric was also incendiary 300 miles away in St. Johns County, where masked parents demonstrated alongside small children and urged school officials to buck the governor’s order. “Dead children are not acceptable losses,” one sign read. After a school board meeting that stretched more than seven hours last week, masks remained optional.
“We have been handcuffed,” the school board chair said.
At the same time, at least 28 states, largely Republican-controlled, have moved to restrict education on race and history. Another 15 states, mostly run by Democrats, have moved to expand racial education, according to Chalkbeat, a nonprofit education news outlet.
Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- Vaccine rules . . . and businesses. Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, with varying approaches. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. On Aug. 11, California announced that it would require teachers and staff of both public and private schools to be vaccinated or face regular testing, the first state in the nation to do so. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York. On Aug. 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that proof of vaccination would be required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a broad range of activities. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Much of the debate has centered on critical race theory, an advanced academic concept that analyzes racism at systemic levels and is generally not taught until college.
“This is not really about critical race theory,” said Dorinda Carter Andrews, a professor of race, culture and equity at Michigan State University, where she teaches such a course. “It’s really a distraction,” she said, “to suppress the ways in which educators engage young people in race dialogue.”
Keith Ammon, a Republican state representative in New Hampshire, is among those who have sought to regulate how teachers talk about race. He said that concepts like white privilege could create a “divisive worldview” and that he was wary of teachers who “bring their activism into the classroom.”
As a lawmaker, he said, he has a job “to put some guidelines to how taxpayer money is used.”
As these laws take effect, educators may increasingly find themselves in the cross hairs.