Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is defying a demand that he stop using federal coronavirus relief money to fund an education grant program that can only go to schools without mask mandates.The Republican governor also is continuing a program that gives private school vouchers to parents upset that their children’s schools require masks or quarantines after being exposed to COVID-19.In a letter sent to the U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday, Ducey’s federal grant team manager ignored the department’s demand that he stop using the money. Instead, Jason Mistlebauer said the money was appropriately being used to help students who were harmed by school mask mandates.“In Arizona, disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of overbearing measures and the state wants to ensure that low-income students are not disproportionately affected by mask mandates rules and school closures,” Mistlebauer wrote.Despite the rationale Mistlebauer laid out, a $163 million grant program Ducey created goes to schools in high-income areas, but only if they do not require masks. And a much smaller program that gives private school vouchers to parents whose children’s public schools have mask mandates or require isolation after COVID-19 exposures doesn’t only target low-income children. Applicants can earn up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level, which equals $92,750 for a family of four. Ducey, a Republican, created the grant programs in August to put pressure on school districts that have defied the state’s ban on mask mandates. That ban was later overturned by the courts, but Ducey has not removed the limits on which school districts qualify.The Treasury Department last month said the grant programs are “not a permissible use” of the federal funding. It was one of a series of efforts by the Biden administration to push back against Republican governors who have opposed mask mandates and otherwise sought to use federal pandemic funding to advance their own agendas.In the letter, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said the conditions “undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.” He asked the state to explain how it will “remediate” the problem within 30 days.Ducey’s spokesman dodged a question as to why it did not respond to the federal government’s demand that it cease spending the money on unauthorized programs.“The federal government laid out their case why they don’t think it’s appropriate,” C.J. Karamargin said. “And we responded as they’ve asked us to do and provided our analysis as to why we think it is.”The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal mask wearing for students and teachers in the classroom. The CDC issued the guidance in light of the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19.Health officials in Maricopa County reported that schools without mask mandates had dramatically higher numbers of COVID-19 outbreaks. The report given to county supervisors in August was later used as a basis for a CDC report.
School Mask Mandates at a Glance
As of Sept. 29, nine states have banned school districts from setting universal mask mandates. Those bans are in effect in five states. In the remaining four states, mask mandate bans have been blocked, suspended, or are not being enforced. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia require masks be worn in schools.
State-wide mask policies may include exemptions for certain districts, schools, groups, or individuals.
Click the information icon () for key details about a state’s mask policy.
MASK MANDATE BAN IN EFFECT
MASK MANDATE BAN BLOCKED, SUSPENDED, OR NOT BEING ENFORCED
On Sept. 27, a judge in Arizona blocked the state laws banning mask mandates that were set to take effect on Sept. 29. On Nov. 2, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld that ruling.
In Arkansas, a judge paused the state law that prohibits local officials from setting mask mandates, meaning school districts can—at least for now—set their own local mask requirements.
On Sept. 13, a federal judge ordered Iowa to halt enforcement of its law banning mask mandates in schools. The order was later extended.
4. South Carolina
On Sept. 28, a federal judge suspended South Carolina from enforcing the rule that banned school districts from requiring masks for students.
4. District of Columbia
On Oct. 26, Louisiana’s governor told school districts they can opt out of the state’s mask mandate if they follow the existing CDC quarantine guidance.
On Oct. 26, Massachusetts extended the mask requirement through Jan. 15. On Sept. 27, Massachusetts said schools can apply for a waiver from the face covering rules if 80% of their students and staff have been vaccinated. If a school reaches the 80% threshold, unvaccinated students and employees are still required to wear masks.
11. New Jersey
12. New Mexico
15. Rhode Island