CDC Modifies Federal Mask Requirement for School Buses and General Guidance

As school leaders are aware, the CDC issued an Order on January 29, 2021, that required masking on all public transportation. This included public school buses. However, on February 25, the CDC announced that it was “exercising its enforcement discretion to not require that people wear masks on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems, including early care and educational/child care programs.” https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/face-masks-public-transportation.html. The CDC also stated that it plans to amend its order as soon as practicable to remove the requirement for school buses altogether. This change coincides with the CDC’s updated guidance regarding masking in the K-12 setting.

According to the CDC’s new guidance, masking is not a recommended prevention measure in counties where the COVID-19 Community Level is at low or medium. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/community-levels.html. However, additional prevention measures are still recommended in community settings such as schools, which can include physical distancing, contact tracing, and other measures. The CDC has also provided an online tool to check your county’s COVID-19 Community Level – https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/covid-by-county.html.

What does all this mean for school districts in Missouri? We’ve compiled the following list of tips to help your district navigate these changes:

  • The masking order that applies to public school transportation is still in effect, but the portion dealing with public school transportation will no longer be enforced by the CDC.
  • The CDC no longer specifically recommends masking as a prevention measure in schools located in areas of low or medium COVID-19 Community Levels.
    • Note though that masking is still recommended for schools in areas with a high COVID-19 Community Level, which would include masking on school buses.
  • For schools in low or medium COVID-19 Community Levels, additional prevention measures like physical distancing and contact tracing are still recommended.
  • Districts still maintain the legal authority under Missouri law to require masking at school, including on school buses, even without the CDC’s order.
  • Districts should take the following steps in determining whether to remove any masking requirements for buses:
    • Ensure that there are no local orders in effect regarding masking.
    • Discuss the change with the Board.
    • If your district will be continuing with a masking requirement, contact your district’s legal counsel to discuss potential legal risks.
    • Modify the District’s Return to Learn Plan as necessary.

As always, if you’re a Missouri school leader and have any additional questions about navigating the CDC’s new position when it comes to masking, please feel free to contact one of the attorneys at EdCounsel.