In Tennessee, where at least 20 school districts were closed in one week due to coronavirus, opt-out requests have continued to pour in.
An initial mask mandate in Williamson County allowed parents to opt out on religious or medical grounds. The state's GOP governor then signed an executive order allowing parents to decide whether their children should wear a mask. The move created an immediate bump in the number of students who showed up to school maskless.
Last week, almost all high schools in the county with enrollments of more than 1,000 students had exemption rates of 30% or higher, according to the Tennessean. Page High School was the highest, with an opt-out rate of more than 49%.
All but two of the district's 11 middle schools reported more than 25% of its students opting out, while 64% of its 28 elementary schools had more than a quarter of students without a face covering.
Across the country, mask mandates have triggered angry responses from parents and educators on both sides of the issue. In some cases, authorities have been called to keep the peace at contentious school board meetings that devolved into shouting contests, name-calling, and not-so-thinly veiled threats against educators. In a few instances, the intense pushback has caused some school board members to resign altogether, while in other districts, parents and advocates have threatened recall elections to vote them out of office.
While mask and vaccine requirements vary from state to state, most places allow exemptions for certain medical, religious, or philosophical objections.
In some states, parents have received help from conservative leaders to dodge the new rules legally. While proponents of the workarounds say they are only doing so to preserve the rights of parents and children, others say the moves are dishonest and put others at risk.
Louisiana's attorney general took it to the next level when he posted sample letters on his office's Facebook page to help parents evade mask rules and COVID-19 vaccination requirements.
The pre-written templates posted on Attorney General Jeff Landry's social media cite philosophical and religious reasons as ways parents can score exemptions.
"I have philosophical objections that make it impossible for my child to comply with your COVID-19 policies related to vaccines and mask wearing," one exemption letter states.
In Oregon, Alsea School District Superintendent Marc Thielman told parents they could skirt mask mandates by citing federal disability law.
Thielman said he chose to help parents after the governor's mask mandate generated "huge, huge pushback."
Some parents in Pennsylvania have ignored the state health secretary's order requiring masks inside K-12 schools and child care facilities. Multiple media reports show some school boards that opposed the statewide mask mandate, or those on the receiving end of massive parental pushback, allowed students to go unmasked if they had a parent or guardian's signature.
A recent spot-check by the Associated Press of about 50 school districts showed at least a dozen allowed exemption forms that didn't require a medical professional's signature.
In the Hollidaysburg Area School District in Blair County, only a parent's signature is required to go maskless.
"This may be our last chance to stop what seems to be a never-ending obsession to force masks on our children," resident Steve Link told school board members at a recent meeting.
The Central York School Board, which has stated its opposition to the statewide masking order, offers parents a Google Forms survey for exemptions. The board stated it believes school districts should be locally controlled and that parents are the best judge of their children's medical and mental well-being.
Olivia Pitch, a 17-year-old senior at Central York School District, said most students in her school don't wear masks. In fact, she is just one of two people in her homeroom who does.
"I want to get rid of the pandemic as much as anyone, and in my opinion, the best way to ensure the pandemic ... gets pushed down to a very manageable level is by mandating masks," she told the Associated Press. "I feel like it should definitely be necessary unless you have a doctor's note saying otherwise."
Pennsylvania's Education Department does not track which students comply with the state masking mandate.
In Florida, Venice-based chiropractor Dan Busch signed off on 500 medical exemption forms, roughly one-third of all medical exemption forms, for children attending Sarasota County Schools who did not want to wear a mask, according to district spokesman Craig Maniglia.
As a result, the district tweaked its policy on the type of medical professional who can sign an exemption, which is now restricted to medical doctors, licensed osteopathic physicians, or advanced registered nurse practitioners.
The medical professionals must also sign a form stating the child "cannot wear a mask or a face shield (or both) due to a medical, physical, or psychological contraindication." If a student fails to secure an exemption, he or she must mask up.
Superintendent Brennan Asplen said the new policy was put in place "so that we can be consistent in our consideration of whether medical reasons warrant individuals to be exempt from the policy and to prevent abuse."
Original Location: Push for mask exemptions in public schools on the rise despite delta variant
Washington Examiner Videos