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More states have banned K-12 schools and universities from requiring Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines and face masks for their students. At least eight states passed laws prohibiting COVID-19 vaccinations or vaccine passports, while at least three states mandated bans on making students mask up on campus. The bans on vaccines and face masks came contrary to federal guidance recommending that unvaccinated students wear masks when in-person classes resume.
In June 2021, Arizona passed laws banning vaccine and mask mandates at schools and colleges starting in the fall semester. The state’s move stemmed from Arizona State University‘s (ASU) June 14 announcement that unvaccinated students should expect frequent COVID-19 tests and wear masks at all times when fall classes start on Aug. 19. Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey did not take too kindly to the announcement, calling it a “bad policy with no basis in public health.”
Ducey then issued an executive order the next day banning mask mandates and required COVID-19 testing in public universities. His June 15 order provided an exception: Testing would be required in cases of outbreaks in dormitories. However, the mandate said universities must secure an approval from the Arizona Department of Health Services before doing so. A vote by the Arizona Legislature subsequently formalized Ducey’s mandate.
ASU spokesman Jay Thorne said the university will comply with the order and “follow the honor system.” He added that ASU will provide free vaccinations and COVID-19 testing on campus. Furthermore, Thorne said the university will “continue to encourage vaccinations” and “recommend that unvaccinated students wear masks and get tested.”
Oklahoma also passed legislation that banned schools from implementing mask mandates unless under a state of emergency. The law also prohibited schools, including higher education institutions, from requiring COVID-19 vaccines and proof of vaccination. However, the law exempted medical programs in post-secondary schools from the prohibition.
Oklahoma State Rep. Kevin West, a GOP lawmaker who sponsored the legislation, said he received overwhelming support – mostly from parents. “It gives that authority [to wear a mask] to the parents,” he said.
Arkansas also passed similar legislation in April that prohibited mandatory COVID-19 vaccination and face coverings in schools.