(The Center Square) – The Louisiana Department of Health will not require students to wear masks when they return for the upcoming school year in August.
The decision is included in updated guidance for statewide K-12 school systems.
Dubbed “Ready to Achieve,” the plan relaxes unprecedented COVID-19 precautions that swept through public and private schools last year. It relies on the Louisiana Department of Health and the Children’s Hospital of New Orleans’ review of new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
The 16-page document lists dozens of protocols, health and safety standards and social distancing measures.
Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley was careful not to portray the 2021-2022 safeguards as authoritative directives.
“Our school operational guidance serves as best practices. These are not mandates,” Brumley said in a statement. “The State of Louisiana has not issued a mandate relative to the use of facial coverings by students or faculty on a school campus or inside a school facility.”
Unvaccinated students in grades 3 through 12 are expected to wear masks and all students are recommended to keep 3-feet distance from each other within classroom settings.
Other recommendations include limiting group sizes for large gatherings and extracurricular activities, organizing classrooms to maximize physical distance among students and keeping students 6 feet apart and in cohorts no greater than four when outside.
While the updated state guidelines aren’t mandatory, related policies will occur at the local level, leaving open the possibility of renewed mask mandates in certain areas.
“School system leaders should continue to work with the local medical community to determine what works best based on local context,” Brumley said.
Sandy Holloway, president of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, agreed.
“Decisions regarding masking and other prevention measures are best made by those closest to our students, and Louisiana’s local school systems have the authority to develop COVID-19 policies appropriate for their communities,” Holloway said.
Schools were inundated with strict safety requirements last year, pursuant to an executive order from Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Edwards lifted the order’s student mask decree in May, saying, “For nearly 15 months, Louisiana has operated under necessary public health restrictions designed to save lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19.”
Such mandates occurred across the country and led to controversy in many states.
Let Them Breathe, a nationwide group of concerned parents, questioned the efficacy of masks.
“There have been no long-term studies assessing what the mental, physical, social, and academic effects are of masking children for lengthy time-periods daily are,” founder Sharon McKeeman said.
The Louisiana Department of Education said it will require face masks for all students on school buses because of public transportation rules issued by the federal government. The department’s updated approach to COVID-19 is subject to change per related events or CDC information.