Majority in new poll supports school mask, vaccine mandates

Majority in new poll supports school mask, vaccine mandates
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A majority of Americans support mask and vaccine requirements for K-12 students and teachers, according to a new poll, but there is a severe partisan gap.

Overall, slightly less than 60 percent of respondents in the new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll said they supported mask mandates for students and teachers.

A similar percentage said they also supported vaccine requirements for teachers and eligible students.

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But fewer than 4 in 10 Republicans said they were in favor of mask requirements for students and teachers, compared with more than 8 in 10 Democrats.

As COVID-19 cases spike across the country, schools and school boards have essentially become ground zero in the debates over masks and vaccines, often stoked by politicians eager to capitalize on culture wars. 

Schools will be open across the country in the next few weeks, but there’s no national consensus on how to keep classrooms safe, raising questions and conflicts for the nation’s teachers, parents and school boards.

Most states allow school districts to set their own mask policies, but some Republican governors have outlawed mask mandates in schools, prompting local school districts to challenge the bans

Until children under age 12 are eligible to be vaccinated, experts say the best way to keep them safe in schools is to use all the tools available, including physical distancing, masks, ventilation and vaccines for everyone else who is eligible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend universal face coverings in schools for teachers and students.

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Some of the country's largest school districts will require masks for students and vaccines for teachers, though there is often an option for teachers to be tested weekly if they are not vaccinated. 

For example, New York City on Monday said all public school teachers and staff will need to have at least a first vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without a testing option, but no penalties have been announced yet.

California will also require all public school staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing.

And Washington state recently said teachers must be inoculated or face dismissal, without a testing option.

The poll released Monday showed 59 percent of Americans support vaccination requirements for teachers. 

Vaccine mandates for eligible students are incredibly rare, but the AP survey showed 55 percent of respondents said they would support one for students age 12 and over who are eligible to be vaccinated. 

A majority of parents remain opposed to mandates for students, however. Only 42 percent of parents said they back vaccine mandates for students.

The nationwide poll was conducted Aug. 12-16 among 1,729 adults. The margin of sampling error is 3.2 percentage points.