As mask mandates are relaxing for vaccinated people across the nation, school districts in Pennsylvania are awaiting guidance from the state's Department of Education on how to move forward with masks inside the classroom.
"While we are still awaiting official guidance from the PA Department of Education, with the school year coming to an end, we don’t see the mask mandate being lifted within our schools before the summer break. Furthermore, from what we have heard, even if school boards are allowed to offer their own guidance in this area, they will continue the mask mandate, at least for now," said Carol Yeagy of The Keystone Teachers Association.
Currently, children 12-years-old and above are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. Moderna and Johnson and Johnson shots are available to those 18-years-old and above. However, as the Pfizer vaccine eligibility was just expanded to 12-15 earlier this month the chances that many students could have their second dose by the end of the school year could be slim.
"PSEA is evaluating the new guidance from the CDC to determine what impact it will have on school settings in Pennsylvania, especially given that the vast majority of students have not yet been vaccinated or are not yet eligible for the vaccine," said Chris Lilienthal, Assistant Director of Communications of PA State Education Association.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people to allow them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.
Pennsylvania's Department of Health echoed that fully vaccinated individuals may choose not to wear a mask, unless a business or organization, such as a school, requires it.
"Since children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to receive a vaccine, it will be difficult for schools to lift the mask mandate and we will most likely be seeing consistency even in the higher-level grades where those students are eligible to get a vaccine. Additionally, since the new eligibility for children 12 years of age and older is fairly recent, it is assumed that most in that age group will not be vaccinated in the coming weeks, or at least have their second dose before the school year ends," said Yeagy.
The issue also raises questions over if vaccines will be required for students in the future. State officials have previously said they do not plan to require the vaccines at this time but that the decision will likely fall to individual school districts.