Mask Requirements: 2021–2022
In fall 2020, with half of Americans fully vaccinated for COVID-19, the nation’s schools began the second pandemic school year open for in-person learning. Though school closures were largely a thing of the past, stubbornly high case rates shifted the political and geographic divisions over school pandemic responses to a new flashpoint: school district mask mandates.
Return to Learn’s 2021-22 Mask Mandate Tracking Data covered 8,500 districts. The data displayed on this page provide an overview of mask mandates’ timing across different types of school districts. Masking mandates and the problematic role of the CDC are reviewed in more depth here: “School Mask Mandates and CDC Guidance: 2021-22.”
Political differences in masking were stark. Before the CDC’s new guidance in February, 77 percent of students in school districts that voted for Biden attended schools with mask mandates, compared to 36 percent of students in Trump districts. The only masking predictor stronger than politics was in-person instructional offerings during the 2020-21 school year.
Learn more about this chart. | More information on variable definitions.
School districts’ masking policies were often misaligned with the CDC COVID-19 Community Risk Level. These charts highlight how districts were out of sync with the CDC’s updated masking guidance from February 2021.
Learn more about this chart. | This map is interactive – search, zoom in, and click on legend and variables for more information.
For the majority of the school year, school districts’ masking-policy decisions weren’t responsive to the COVID threat. During the delta and omicron waves, the vast majority of mask-optional districts were out of sync with that threat. This mismatch is highlighted in our interactive data site: “A Failure to Respond: Public School Mask Mandates in the 2021-22 School Year.”
Our goal is to provide a fundamental, up-to-date baseline of school districts’ current masking requirements and how they change during the 2021-22 school year. This tracker categorizes masking requirements for over 8,500 school districts nationwide, which include all regular public school districts with at least three schools. We hope these data will serve school communities as they face ongoing decisions, provide the basic knowledge necessary for shaping policy across states, and allow other researchers to more accurately study how COVID-19 mitigation efforts are impacting schools.
We adhere to high standards in research methodology and practices, pursuing rigorous transparency in our approach to this work.
Though this data collection is now closed, some districts may be misclassified. If you see a district you believe is mis-categorized, please submit a correction request here. Please find a thorough description of R2L methodology and data here.