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A Review of Mask Mandates in Schools, Other State Requirements in Midwest for 2020-'21 School Year Being Held During COVID-19 Pandemic

Page last updated on August 5, 2020
At least for the start of the 2020-‘21 year, K-12 school teachers, other staff and students are being required in a majority of the Midwest’s states to wear masks or other face coverings during the day.
Mask mandates are in place in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, as the result of either gubernatorial orders or plans developed by state departments of education and/or health. The region’s four other states — Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota — have left mask policies to the discretion of local school officials. The province of Saskatchewan, a member of The Council of State Governments’ Midwestern Legislative Conference, also does not have a mask mandate for schools.
CSG Midwest’s review of state policies on school re-openings for the fall found only one state in the region where schools are required to offer in-person instruction: Iowa. Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed SF 2310, which included this language:
“Unless explicitly authorized in a proclamation of a public health disaster emergency issued by the governor … a brick-and-mortar school district or accredited nonpublic school shall not take action to provide instruction primarily through remote-learning opportunities.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in July that schools must offer at least 50 percent of their instruction in person.
Midwestern states have largely left decisions on the reopening of schools to local education leaders. The mask mandates and Iowa’s requirement for in-person instruction are two exceptions to this rule. Many states also have new laws or regulations on remote learning.

Details on the mask mandates, other safety requirements

As part of the mask mandates, states typically provide exceptions for specific groups of students and/or staff. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, for example, waives the mask rule for individuals with medical or mental health conditions and for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Michigan does not require face coverings for individuals who cannot “medically tolerate” it.
Michigan’s rules (which come from an executive order of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the previously released “MI Safe Schools: Michigan’s 2020-’21 Return to School Road Map”) also may vary depending on a school district’s geographic location and COVID-19-related health threats for that area.  
For Michigan school districts located in a Phase 4 region, as determined by the state’s Safe Start
, face coverings must be worn by all staff and all ages of students when they are in indoor hallways and common areas.
Michigan students in grades six and up also must wear masks while in their classrooms. There is an exception for lower-grade students if they remain with their classes throughout the school day and do not come into close contact with students in another class.
In Indiana, under an executive order of Gov. Eric Holcomb, the state’s youngest K-12 students —kindergarten through second grade — are exempt from the face-covering mandate.
In some states, a mask mandate is among several COVID-19-related safety measures required of school districts as they welcome students and staff back to in-class instruction. For example:

New state laws establish standards for remote learning

CSG Midwest also found instances in which states are requiring school districts to offer remote/distance learning as an option to families who prefer it to in-person instruction. For example:
When remote learning is offered, too, states have new laws and standards that schools must follow.
CSG Midwest review done by Tim Anderson, CSG Midwest staff liaison for the CSG Midwestern Legislative Conference Education Committee.