Seventeen Republican senators are demanding that the Biden administration rescind the mask mandate for federal Head Start preschool programs, which still requires masking for children ages 2 and older.
The group is led by Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., and Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Richard Burr, R-N.C. They specifically ask Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to do away with an interim final rule (IFR) that requires masking for all staff and participants in Head Start programs ages 2 and older.
“As you know, as of January 31, 2022, this IFR requires Head Start staff and volunteers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. It also requires Head Start staff and volunteers to wear masks,” the letter says. “But beyond these mandates, the IFR also requires students two years of age and older to wear masks despite the World Health Organization advising against mask mandates for children five years of age and younger.”
Head Start serves low-income children, primarily 3 and 4 years of age, according to its website.
The letter comes amid growing worries the pandemic, including masking, may have harmed children and their development. Meanwhile, across the country, most school districts have lifted their mask mandates.
The IFR on masking in Head Start programs, meanwhile, said that keeping cases down and day care and preschool centers open is a strong reason for universal masking.
“Closures impose hardship on Head Start children and families by diminishing the ability to attend Head Start in person,” the IFR says. “The result is harm to early learning and development. Closures also diminish the ability of parents to work or participate in schooling.”
In the letter, the senators also note that the Senate passed a resolution disapproving of the continued requirement that children in Head Start programs wear masks But, they wrote, “President Biden unfortunately committed to vetoing it.”
“The nation must continue transition toward treating COVID-19 as an endemic condition and return to a sense of normalcy, and it is past time for Washington bureaucrats to allow Head Start programs to do the same,” the letter said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office last week slammed the Biden administration’s ongoing mask mandate for low-income toddlers, calling it an “unacceptable” harm to children that even contradicts current guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Current CDC guidelines recommend universal masking only in areas with high COVID-19 community levels.
Fox News’ Jessica Chasmar contributed to this report.