In most ways, our world has returned to normal after the height of the COVID pandemic. It’s quite refreshing to observe that in many areas of the country, life operates as if a global pandemic never occurred. But in other places, bureaucrats continue to use the pandemic to dictate people’s lives, including the youngest and most vulnerable Americans. As summer wanes and children return to school, COVID policies have not disappeared as they ought to have.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “as of August 11, eight of the country’s largest 500 school districts required masks for all students” this upcoming school year. 

Students enrolled in the federally funded Head Start preschool program are required to wear masks all year. Philadelphia school children of all ages are required to mask for the first ten days of class at least. 

While many schools are not mandating masks, many are encouraging them, despite objections from parents. As the Wall Street Journal notes, teachers unions have been some of the strongest voices in favor of continued masking and other COVID-related precautions: 

Jennifer McAfee, an eighth-grade teacher in the district, said in a statement issued through the LAUSD teacher union that educators want the district to continue requiring students to answer a daily health questionnaire, put forth clear isolation guidelines and encourage indoor mask use.

In addition to masking, school districts are imposing COVID vaccine mandates on their students and staff. New Orleans and Washington D.C. are two of the largest public school districts enforcing a strict vaccine mandate for students this year. 

Across the country, there is a major disparity between vaccination rates of white and black children with significantly lower rates of black children receiving the shot. Based on data for 12-17-year-olds in the District, a vaccine mandate would bar at least two-thirds of black students from learning in the classroom. 

The refusal to let go of COVID-era policies prove that school districts will not prioritize the health and well-being of students. We know that there is no data that shows masking lowers COVID transmission rates in schools. Rather, we know that masking contributes to increases in anxiety and depression; decreases in communication and socialization skill development; increases in headaches, face rashes and redness, and impaired facial recognition; and increases in tooth decay

When comparing COVID guidelines for schools in the U.S. to those internationally, the absurdity is even more pronounced. The chart below illustrates guidance in Norway compared to an Illinois school district.

These prolonged and outdated COVID-era policies highlight the urgent need for education freedom, which would empower parents to leave public schools altogether. If education freedom was the law of the land, school districts would realize the importance of listening to parents, knowing that if they don’t, enrollment will tank. Without school choice, there is little incentive for districts to be responsive to parents and a strong incentive to mandate policies that are not in the best interest of students.