School Districts Report Few Students Are Opting Out Of Mask Requirements
A temporary injunction blocking a law that bans mask mandates in schools goes into effect this week.
That should pave the way for school districts across the state to put mask mandates in their hallways and classrooms in place.
But how has it been working in schools that have already taken that approach?
Schools around Oklahoma City have implemented mask mandates in the last several weeks that include an option for parents to request their child doesn’t need to wear a mask.
StateImpact reached out to a half dozen school districts where masks were required, but opt outs were given. Of those who responded, it appears opt outs are rare.
Oklahoma City Public Schools 149 out of 31,000 students have opted out. Less than 1%.
Santa Fe South Charter Schools 114 students out of 3,691 have opted out. About 3%.
Harding Independence Charter Schools 12 out of 834 families have opted out. Less than 2%.
The move has improved masking compliance, said Steven Stefanick, superintendent of Harding Independence Charter Schools.
“The norm was not to wear it right because it wasn't a requirement,” Stefanick said. By making it a requirement that students can opt out of, “you're flipping the normalcy.”
Already, public school districts around the state are slowly starting to take a similar approach. Just before Labor Day, Edmond and Yukon Public Schools announced they would have a mask requirement with opt out provision for students this week. Tiny Briggs Public School in Cherokee County has said the same.
Though it’s politically fraught, that approach has gotten the endorsement of Gov. Kevin Stitt. Stitt has repeatedly praised schools for giving opt out provisions, though he’s said little about endorsing masks as a mitigation tool.
The practice has been leveraged as a loophole around the controversial Senate Bill 658. That newly enacted law bans mask mandates in schools without a governor-declared state of emergency, which hasn’t come this fall.
The law was partially struck down by an Oklahoma County District Court judge last week. And school districts have cited that pause - as well as an Oklahoma State Department of Education announcement that it wouldn’t enforce the law while it's being adjudicated - as reason to at least explore masking requirements that allow for exceptions.
It’s unclear, though, how many will actually put mask mandates in place. Last fall, more than a third of Oklahoma school districts had no masking requirements.
Stefanick said he’s relying on medical expert advice to make these types of determinations in his district.
The CDC says universal masking is critical to limiting the spread of the coronavirus in schools. And maintaining in person learning.
“We want our kids here and we don't want them on a computer screen at home,” he said. “That’s our goal.”