The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending all students, teachers and staff wear masks inside schools when classes resume to protect unvaccinated children from COVID-19 and reduce transmissions.
Children age 11 and younger are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines yet.
“There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated,” said Dr. Sara Bode, incoming chairwoman of the APP’s Council on School Health Executive Committee. “This is why it’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to safeguard children.”
“Universal masking is one of those tools and has been proven effective in protecting people against other respiratory diseases, as well,” Bode said Monday in a statement.
The highly respected national organization of pediatricians also is encouraging all students age 12 and older to get vaccinated.
The recommendation comes as several suburban school districts – including Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, McHenry Elementary School District 15 and Wheaton Community Unit School District 200 – have adopted optional masking policies.
Those decisions came amid pushback from some parents who have demanded educators drop masks, saying they’re not necessary.
Meanwhile, other districts said they want more definitive guidelines from the Illinois Department Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education.
Last week, a group of Wheaton parents protested District 200′s actions, saying voluntary masking puts younger children’s health in jeopardy.
AAP experts said studies show it’s crucial for kids to learn in-person rather than remotely.
“The pandemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on children, and it’s not just their education that has suffered but their mental, emotional and physical health,” Bode said.
Academy doctors noted that highly infectious COVID-19 variants “may increase the risk of transmission and result in worsening illness.”
A commonsense approach that includes masking, washing hands and vaccinations for everyone who is eligible “will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone,” the organization said.
“Many schools will not have a system to monitor vaccine status of students, teachers and staff, and some communities overall have low vaccination uptake where the virus may be circulating more prominently,” officials said.