Governor Lamont announced a plan to end the statewide mask mandate for schools and childcare centers in Connecticut effective February 28, 2022. The plan places the decision whether to require masks in schools and childcare centers with local authorities.
With Governor Lamont’s emergency powers set to expire on February 15, 2022, the governor reached an agreement with legislative leaders to continue certain executive orders past the February 15th date. One of those executive orders allows the state Department of Education and the state Department of Public Health to establish rules regarding mask mandates in schools and childcare centers. The statewide mask mandate would be dropped February 28th, while the Department of Public Health would then issue guidance for school districts on how to decide whether to institute a mask mandate. The Department of Public Health does not plan to provide concrete metrics to determine whether a mask mandate should be present. Other guidance will be issued for handling COVID cases in schools where masks are not required.
Although the availability of vaccines is a major driver of the decision to eliminate the mask mandate, the decision applies to children who are currently too young to be vaccinated.
After the statewide mask mandate for schools and childcare centers is removed, local leadership will need to decide whether to require masks in these settings. Given the passionate opinions on all sides of the question of mask mandates, this will be a hot button issue for school districts as they balance the needs and interests of school staff, students, and parents. Unions are also likely to be vocal on this topic and different unions within a district may advocate for different outcomes.
While districts should prepare to take on this decision with the current timeline in place, Governor Lamont indicated this plan is not definitive. Part of the plan requires that the legislature maintain the executive order allowing the Department of Education and the Department of Public Health to have control over a statewide mask mandate so that it will continue through February 28th and then be dropped. In addition, the Governor did not rule out the possibility of changing course based on changing conditions and new variants. However, given the agreement with legislative leaders and the short timeframe between the announcement and the effective date, it is highly likely that the plan will proceed.
Our labor and employment attorneys can assist school districts and childcare centers in managing decisions related to mask mandates and the employee relationship.