The Week in COVID & Education Policy: When Can Schools Cancel Mask Mandates, Pediatricians Declare Mental Health Emergency & More

This is our weekly briefing on how the pandemic is shaping schools and education policy, vetted, as always, by AEI Visiting Fellow John Bailey. Click here to see the full archive. Get this weekly roundup, as well as rolling daily updates, delivered straight to your inbox — sign up for The 74 Newsletter.

Schools Should Do Away With Mask Mandates By the End of the Year: Argues Joseph Allen in The Washington Post.

  • “It’s time to set firm dates for ending masking in schools. The risk of COVID-19 to kids is already very low. And with the expected arrival of vaccines for 5- to- 11-year-olds in early November, schools should be able to lift their mask mandates by the end of the year at the latest.”
  • “Data from all over the world affirms that the risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 is extremely low for kids. In highly vaccinated New England, the hospitalization rate right now for kids under 17 is about 7 per 10 million. That is not a typo.”
  • “Here are four things we should do to prioritize the health of children:”
    • “Mandate vaccines for all adults in schools, as Los Angeles and New York City have done.”
    • “Host at-school vaccination clinics for 5- to 11-year-olds in every school in the country.”
    • “Expand use of rapid antigen tests so we can end the unnecessary quarantining of kids.”
    • “Improve ventilation and filtration. This helps reduce the amount of virus anyone in a classroom will inhale, which lowers the likelihood of infection and likely lowers severity if infected. This is not hard or expensive. The stimulus money is there, and solutions such as installing portable air cleaners with HEPA filters are evidence-based and easy to implement. Size them right, and plug them in. That’s it.”
(Joel Lerner / Xinhua via Getty Images)

October 22, 2021 — The Big Three

Pediatricians Declare a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health: Statement here from American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association. Their recommendations include:

  • “Increase federal funding dedicated to ensuring all families and children, from infancy through adolescence, can access evidence-based mental health screening, diagnosis and treatment to appropriately address their mental health needs, with particular emphasis on meeting the needs of under-resourced populations.”
  • “Address regulatory challenges and improve access to technology to assure continued availability of telemedicine to provide mental health care to all populations.”
  • “Increase implementation and sustainable funding of effective models of school-based mental health care, including clinical strategies and models for payment.”
  • “Fully fund comprehensive, community-based systems of care that connect families in need of behavioral health services and supports for their child with evidence-based interventions in their home, community or school.”
  • Related: U.S. Education Department released a new report, “Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral and Mental Health.”
Morning Consult

‘Still Not Equitable’: How COVID-19 Closures and Differing Safety Policies Are Disrupting School for Many Children: A Morning Consult poll shows that hidden behind the large number of schools that are open for in-person learning are thousands of students at home because of quarantine rules.

  • 1 in 5 parents said their kids have had to quarantine or miss school because of a possible COVID-19 exposure.
  • 1 in 10 said their kids have missed school or quarantined because they got COVID-19.
  • Nearly 3 in 5 parents said masking is required at their children’s schools, the only safety precaution that polled at over 50 percent.

Children COVID Vaccine Rollout Plan: The White House released a plan Wednesday to get kids ages 5 to 11 vaccinated, pending FDA eligibility. (More from The 74)

  • It secured enough vaccine supply to equip more than 25,000 pediatric and primary-care offices, school and community health clinics, as well as thousands of pharmacies.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services will “conduct a national public education campaign to reach parents and guardians with accurate and culturally responsive information about the vaccine and the risks that COVID-19 poses to children.”
  • “The administration … is providing full funding to states to support [school and community-based] vaccination operations and outreach — including setting up sites, procuring equipment and supplies to store and administer the vaccine, providing transportation to and from vaccination sites and communicating with the public, such as through in-person community engagement, call center support, public service announcements and translation services.”
  • A tidbit from ABC News: “Vaccinators must now also juggle two different COVID vaccine formulas: a full dose for older adolescents and adults — and one-third of that dose one for younger children.To troubleshoot any ensuing confusion, federal health officials are outlining a new color-coded cap system for each formulation of the vaccine, though [it is] still ‘preliminary.’ Purple-capped vials will contain doses for adult and older adolescents, a chart offered to states said; orange-capped vials will contain doses for kids aged 5 to 11.”
  • Related: 10 Myths About COVID-19 Vaccine for Kids, Busted by Chicago Pediatricians

Federal Updates

Census: Public school enrollment dropped by 2.9 million from 2019 to 2020.

  • “The percentage of kids ages 3 and 4 enrolled in school fell from 54% in 2019 to 40% in 2020, the first time since 1996 that fewer than half of the children in this age group were enrolled.”
  • College enrollment fell to the lowest level since 2007. Most of the decline took place in two-year colleges, which had their lowest enrollment levels in 20 years.

Child Tax Credit: New survey from AEI

  • “Our survey results show that some parents changed their employment because of the [child tax credit] payments. Even though the vast majority of parents said the new payments have not affected their employment (or the employment of someone else in their household), more than 10% of respondents reported that it did, with some reporting that it helped them work more and others reporting it helped them work less.”

Nation’s Report Card: 2020 Long-Term Trend Reading and Mathematics NAEP Results at Age 9 and Age 13. More via The 74.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Released some new and improved dashboards and charts.

City & State News

Arkansas: “Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday that elementary and secondary schools will be able to use a distance of 3 feet, instead of 6 feet, to determine who needs to quarantine after a student or employee tests positive for COVID-19.”

California: A state audit found that California might have to return up to $160 million in federal funding if the state’s Department of Education “continues to disburse and monitor federal funds used by K-12 schools the way it is doing it now.”

  • “The state auditor said that California’s education department needed more supervision over how school districts report spending and that the department is not monitoring enough of the recipients,” The Sacramento Bee reports.
  • “An example in the report cited Hayward Unified School District’s use of $4 million in stimulus money that did not have any supporting documents to verify the money went toward COVID-19-related expenses.”

Hawaii: Ohana Pods Lana‘i program” offers families $1,000 microgrants for STEM learning kits, art materials and tutoring.

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia School District braces for a possible transit strike by considering online learning.

Tennessee: “A Rise in Black Youth Suicides Ties Back to Experiences with Racism,” via The Tennessean.

West Virginia: West Virginia Education Association sues Putnam County BOE over COVID-19 policy.

COVID-19 Research

FDA Approvals: The Food and Drug Administration authorized Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots as well as mix-and-matching among different vaccine providers.

  • The agency approved the use of a single booster dose of the Moderna that may be administered at least six months after completion of the primary series to individuals:
    • 65 years of age and older
    • 18 through 64 years of age at high risk of severe COVID-19
    • 18 through 64 years of age with frequent institutional or occupational exposure to COVID-19
  • It also approved the use of a single booster dose of J&J at least two months after completion of the single-dose primary regimen to individuals 18 years of age and older.

Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Highly Protective for 12- to 18-Year-Olds: New CDC study (More from Reuters)

  • The vaccine “was 93% effective in preventing hospitalizations among those aged 12 to 18.”

CDC Considering Test-to-Stay: The CDC “said it is considering a coronavirus ‘test-to-stay’ program in schools instead of quarantine.” Via CNN:

  • “‘In Marietta, we have been tracking students who are testing positive through test-to-stay, and it’s 3%,’ Grant Rivera, superintendent of Marietta City Schools in Georgia, told CNN on Monday.”
  • That “means we can keep 97% of them in class,” Rivera said. “That is a measure of success.”
  • “In an email to CNN, CDC said it views test-to-stay as a ‘promising practice’ and said it’s ‘working with multiple jurisdictions implementing test-to-stay to evaluate the effectiveness of this strategy.’ But it’s not clear when that test-to-stay guidance could be available.”

COVID-19 Testing in Schools Works: Science News asks, so why aren’t more doing it? Long piece but worth the read.

Some Workers Want COVID-19 Recovery Accepted as Evidence of Immunity: Via The Wall Street Journal. “Previous infection should be recognized as proof of protection and exempt employees from vaccine mandates, some workers say.”

SCOTUS and Vaccine Mandate: “The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to block a vaccine requirement imposed on Maine health care workers, the latest defeat for opponents of vaccine mandates,” the AP reports. More via The New York Times.

UK Study: New study finds that COVID-19 infections in children in England rose in September after schools reopened.

COVID-19 Continues to Be a Leading Cause of Death: Via Peterson-KFF. Really powerful visualization by age:


The Unvaccinated May Not Be Who You Think: Great piece by Zeynep Tufekci in the New York Times

  • “The unvaccinated, overall, don’t have much trust in institutions and authorities, and even those they trust, they trust less: 71% of the vaccinated trust hospitals and doctors ‘a lot,’ for example, while only 39% of the unvaccinated do.”
  • “It’s easy to say that all these people should have been more informed or sought advice from a medical provider, except that many have no health care provider. As of 2015, one-quarter of the population in the United States had no primary health care provider to turn to for trusted advice.”
  • “It may well be that some of the unvaccinated are a bit like cats stuck in a tree. They’ve made bad decisions earlier and now may be frozen, part in fear, and unable to admit their initial hesitancy wasn’t a good idea, so they may come back with a version of how they are just doing ‘more research.’”


A Cautionary Tale From Kenya: Designing Educational Pandemic Recovery Programs to Minimize Unintended Consequences: New report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

  • “The bottom line: A small amount of supplemental remote instruction may not be enough to meaningfully improve student learning, and worse, it may cause unintended consequences, such as reducing the amount of time students devote to other educational activities.”
  • The authors offer four recommendations for designing successful programs.

Why So Many Teachers Are Thinking of Quitting: The Washington Post interviews seven educators.

VELA’s Fall 2021 Microgrant Application Is Open: “Everyday entrepreneurs are encouraged to apply for a microgrant of $2,500 or $10,000 to support innovative, nontraditional education programs.”

How SEL Extends K-12 Education’s Reach Into Students’ Lives and Expands Teachers’ Roles: Via Robert Pondiscio

If Not Now, When?: The Urgent Need for an All-One-System Approach to Youth Policy, via Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce

Broadband Affordability Resources: Via National Governors Association

What Education’s Unequal, K-Shaped Recovery Really Looks Like: Via Katie Boody Adorno

Taking Stock With Teens: Piper Sandler survey

  • 87% of U.S. teenagers have iPhones
  • Teens spend 32% of their daily video consumption on Netflix, followed by YouTube at 30%
  • Snapchat is the favorite social media platform (35% share), followed by TikTok (30%) and Instagram (22%)
  • Teens self-reported spending about $2,274 per year, implying total teen spending of about $63 billion

Honoring Gen. Colin Powell: Who died of COVID-19 complications amid his cancer battle.

… And on a Reflective Note

Ted Lasso IRL: Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley: “I just think that kindness and lifting people up and respecting people you don’t know — I just think that’s a big part of our thing here is listening to people and learning about people because I think what you’ll discover is that we have so much more in common than not.”

ICYMI @The74

Weekend Reads: In case you missed them, our top five stories of the week:

Disclosure: John Bailey is an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation, which provides financial support to The 74.

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