News Update

Mask mandates often remain for low-income preschoolers

Some of the nation’s poorest pre-K students are the last still under mask mandates, affecting enrollment, as the New York Times reported.

At Head Start preschools and child care centers for low-income families, education programs the federal government directly oversees, mandatory masking is still on the books for teachers and children as young as 2 years old. This may be helping fuel declining enrollment and staff shortages, some say. 

Many parents don’t want their toddlers to be masked, worried that masking could hinder socialization, a set of skills long neglected during the pandemic.

That requirement also doesn’t track with current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommend universal masking only if there is a high community transmission rate. The vast majority of schools and day care centers have made masks optional.

“Head Start programs have been short-circuited,” said Tommy Sheridan, deputy director of the National Head Start Association, a trade group,  as the New York Times reported. “This mandate on masking and vaccines has hurt a lot of programs. It is more of a crisis that is now feeling like a looming catastrophe.”

Some parents also have academic concerns. Masks can make it more challenging for some children to develop early speech and reading skills, which are learned, in part, by observing mouths in movement, according to research.