Republicans on Friday welcomed a decision by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to drop a mandate for kids as young as two at Head Start preschool and daycare centers.
“I hope these reports are true that Secretary Becerra is finally ceding to commonsense and will lift the federal mandate that forces certain toddlers to wear face masks on the playground,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told Fox News Digital. “I’ve been fighting this government overreach since the very beginning. This decision is long overdue.”
“Head Start’s mask mandates would have continued to hinder the education and social development of nearly a million children from disadvantaged communities,” Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas, told Fox News Digital. “Finally we’re seeing one small step away from virtue signaling and a step toward actual science. I’m glad to see the Biden administration reverse course on their disastrous policy and finally unmask American children.”
An HHS spokesperson confirmed to Fox News Digital Friday that it will remove its COVID mask mandate to align with CDC guidelines. The Hill first reported the move.
“Today, the Office of Head Start (OHS) notified programs that, in the near future, it intends to publish a final rule that will formally remove the requirement for universal masking in Head Start programs for all individuals ages 2 and older, which will align Head Start program masking requirements more closely with the updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance,” the HHS spokesperson said.
“OHS has not monitored mask use at Head Start programs since February 2022, following updated recommendations from CDC,” the spokesperson added. “OHS will continue to not evaluate compliance with the mask requirement during monitoring visits. This applies to all Head Start programs.”
The HHS spokesperson did not address a question from Fox News Digital about whether Head Start will continue to require staff to be vaccinated.
The shift came just days after Republicans in both the House and the Senate called on the Biden administration to rescind the mask mandate.
Thune and Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Richard Burr, R-N.C., led a group of senators asking the administration to roll back both mask and vaccine mandates. Republicans on the House Oversight Committee, where Cloud is a senior member, led a similar letter.
“Numerous studies have shown it is detrimental to children to be continually subjected to mask-wearing; children learning how to speak, interact socially, and interpret the world around them at early ages have the most to lose from this mask policy developmentally, economically, and educationally,” the House lawmakers wrote.
The National Head Start Association, which says it’s the “central association for the Head Start workforce,” also lauded the decision to roll back the mask mandate Friday.
“The Head Start community is grateful for today’s announcement that finally gives us the clarity we have been seeking. It will go a long way to allow programs to do what they do best in a safe, healthy, and community-driven manner,” the group said in a press release. “We appreciate the Administration’s work to restore the local authority that is vital to programs and their ability to serve as many low-income children and families as possible.”
The HHS decision comes near the start of the third full school year of the post-COVID era, which finds children and parents grappling with the effects of masking, shutdowns, virtual learning and learning loss.
“Prior to the pandemic, two thirds of students in the U.S. didn’t read at grade level anyway,” Erika Sanzi, director of outreach at Parents Defending Education and a former educator, told Fox News Digital this week. “Things were bad already. Now, the house is on fire more than it already was.”
Fox News’ Andrew Mark Miller contributed to this report.