Four states to end school mask mandates

Governors or agencies in four states announced they would end their school mask mandates on Feb. 7

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) became the first governor to lift a statewide school mask requirement during the 2021-2022 school year. The requirement is set to end on March 7. New Jersey has required masks in school since August 2020 when the state Department of Education issued its school reopening guidelines.

Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) announced the state would extend its school mask requirement, then lift the requirement on March 31. He also announced the statewide mask requirement would end on Feb. 11. Carney first signed an executive order establishing the school mask requirement in August 2020, prior to the reopening of schools in Delaware.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) announced the state would lift its school mask requirement on Feb. 28. Masks have been required in Connecticut schools since June 2020, when Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona announced school reopening guidelines.

The Oregon Health Authority announced the state would lift its school mask requirement on March 31. The organization also said it would lift the statewide indoor mask mandate on March 31. Oregon has required masks in school since June 2020, when the Oregon Department of Education released its reopening guidance.

The three governors and the health authority said a decline in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in their states, along with vaccine availability, influenced their decisions to lift the mandates.

In Illinois, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow issued a ruling on Feb. 4 temporarily suspending enforcement of Illinois’ statewide school mask requirement, among other coronavirus-related school policies. Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said he planned to appeal the decision. Illinois has required masks in schools since June 2020, when Pritzker released school reopening guidance.

In her decision, Grischow wrote: “The [Illinois Department of Public Health] is limited by law to delegating its authority only to certified local health departments and has not been authorized by the Legislature to delegate any of its authority to any other body of government, including school districts.”

Pritzker released a statement after the ruling, saying: “The grave consequence of this misguided decision is that schools in these districts no longer have sufficient tools to keep students and staff safe while COVID-19 continues to threaten our communities – and this may force schools to go remote.”

Seven statewide school mask requirements have ended or are set to end during the current academic year. New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and Oregon will end requirements by executive action. Mask requirements in Pennsylvania and Illinois were ended by court action, and Kentucky’s was ended by legislative action. 

Besides the four states that have announced end dates for their school mask requirements, ten other states have statewide school mask requirements. All 14 states have Democratic governors. As of Feb. 8, before the announced end dates took effect, 29 states left mask requirements in schools up to local authorities and seven states banned school mask requirements.