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12 of the 20 biggest school districts now require masks in schools. The others can’t because of mask mandate bans

<i>Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images</i><br/>Students wearing masks head to lunch break during summer school at Hooper Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles on June 23.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag
Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Students wearing masks head to lunch break during summer school at Hooper Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles on June 23.

By Elizabeth Stuart, CNN

More major school districts will require masks in schools following updated guidance Tuesday from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With the spread of the more contagious Delta variant, the CDC now recommends students from kindergarten through grade 12 wear masks in school. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended masks in schools for everyone over age 2.

The largest school district in Georgia, Gwinnett County Public Schools, changed its mask policy Tuesday from optional to required for students, staff, visitors and on school buses when school starts next week, regardless of vaccination status.

“This decision takes into account current conditions, the rise in COVID-19 case rates in Gwinnett County, and the ineligibility of children age 12 and younger for the vaccine,” the statement from the school district said.

“The facts and recommendations are clear… masks do make a difference and we must do all we can to keep students in school, in person,” said Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks.

Of the 20 biggest US school districts, 12 are requiring masks for students when the school year begins. The remaining eight are in Florida (Miami-Dade, Duval, Broward, Hillsborough, Orange and Palm Beach) and Texas (Dallas and Houston), where the governors have banned mask mandates in schools.

Clark County Public Schools in Nevada, the fifth largest district in the country, decided to require masks after the CDC’s new guidance.

“Once again, the District is committed to opening schools for all students for in-person learning, while promoting the health and safety of all students and staff,” a news release said. Clark County includes Las Vegas.

Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland will require masks for all students, staff and visitors in schools regardless of vaccination status, the district tweeted Tuesday.

“Face coverings are not required outdoors, but strongly are recommended for unvaccinated individuals,” MCPS tweeted.

The nation’s three largest school districts — New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago — will require masks in schools.

School districts have indicated they may change their guidance according to local public health conditions even after the school year starts.

Chicago Public Schools tweeted that “masks will be worn by all in schools” when in-person classes return August 30. Schools will maintain physical distancing of 3 feet where possible and will keep their cleaning and sanitizing measures in place, according to a release.

Public school districts in Philadelphia; Fairfax County, Virginia; Hawaii; Prince George’s County, Maryland; San Diego, Shelby County, Tennessee; and DeKalb County, Georgia will require masks.

In Jefferson County, Kentucky, masks will only be required to be worn by students who are unvaccinated.

Two districts in North Carolina, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County, will only require masks until the end of July — at which point a new decision will be made before the school year begins.

Over the last week, Florida led the nation (and Texas was third) in average daily new Covid-19 cases. Florida reported more than 45,000 new cases, and Texas reported more than 32,000 new cases in the past week, according to a CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

Correction: An earlier headline and version of this story overstated the number of the 20 largest school districts that are making masks optional for students. The story also incorrectly described the policy on masks in Montgomery County, Maryland. Masks are required for summer school and Montgomery County has decided to require masks when the school year begins.

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CNN’s Mallory Simon and Keely Aouga contributed to this report.

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