This fall, students need to be back in school and students, staff, and teachers should engage in universal masking, says Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

“That’s where students learn best,” Cardona told NPR. “Schools are more than just places where students learn how to read and write — they’re communities. They’re like second families to our students.”

On August 2, 2021, the U.S Department of Education released its plan for returning all students to school. The roadmap encourages districts to seriously focus on social and emotional support for students while exploring ways to accelerate catching up on missed academics. It also recommends that schools provide access to vaccinations for students, staff, and families.

The plan also explicitly recommends that schools follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s masking guidance for K-12 schools, even through revisions. The most recent revision includes recommendations of “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.”

This puts the DoE’s roadmap in direct opposition to new laws in some states. Texas, South Carolina, and Iowa all recently passed laws banning schools from requiring masks regardless of the CDC’s guidance.

“I know that there are some folks making decisions that are less based on science and more on their ideology,” Cardona said of the universal masking request. “But at the end of the day, our educators, their job is to make sure our students are OK. We have to make sure that we’re following mitigation strategies and creating safe learning environments for students… We know that mask wearing and mitigation strategies allow [schools] to reopen safely.” If increased spread of the virus prohibits schools from reopening in person, he said, “to me, that’s a failure of adults.”

Cardona also believes that the return to school this fall is an opportunity for schools to “reset” the factors that create opportunity gaps in education, such as unequal school funding.

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