Students and parents share Covid-19 concerns as the school year starts

By Fernando Alfonso III, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 7:59 p.m. ET, September 10, 2021
24 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
7:33 p.m. ET, September 10, 2021

How a South Carolina mom is getting her kids to mask up in school when others are not

 Katy Beebe.
Katy Beebe. (Courtesy of Katy Beebe)

It has been less than a month since school started for Katy Beebe's two children and she already knows it's going to be another tough one thanks to Covid-19.

Upon dropping her 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son at school, the first thing Beebe, of Greenville, South Carolina, noticed was "some teachers masked, some not," she told CNN over email.

"Most parents walking their children in, unmasked. We regrouped after day one and talked again about needing to not only protect ourselves, but our family and neighbors," Beebe said. "So, they’re reluctantly wearing their masks. I know they have them on for drop off and pickup, I obviously can’t enforce wearing throughout the school day."

Beebe lives in one of the hardest-hit infection areas of the state, she said. That stress has also been felt by her children.

"My daughter is especially concerned because she thinks her teacher won’t like her and the students will make fun of her for being cautious," Beebe said. "She’s also afraid that she will be labeled a Biden supporter and ostracized, she obviously isn’t old enough to fully understand but she’s picked up on the politics of it."

One of the few silver linings for the Beebe family is her ability to work from home, which has cut down on commuting two hours each day.

"We’ve joined a play gym and go in the evenings or we swim. I’ve managed to lose more than 50 pounds," Beebe said. "Our Saturdays and Sundays belong to family time and church, and life finally doesn’t feel like one harried week after another."

Beebe added: "I truly love my state for so many reasons, and I have my parents and grandparents nearby, our church family, our whole lives here. But, I’ve been so disappointed in our governor’s actions and statements. He tied the hands of our school district. It’s all political infighting that has put my family at risk."

6:49 p.m. ET, September 10, 2021

A lack of social distancing in his children's schools leaves Louisiana father concerned

The one lingering concern the Leighton family has as their children return to school this fall amid the pandemic has to do with social distancing.

"The only concern for me and my wife is that there is no sufficient efforts to socially distance the elementary school kids. They cluster them in groups of four in most rooms so that if one kid is diagnosed with Covid-19, only three other kids are identified as possible contacts to quarantine," William Leighton, of Bossier Parish, Louisiana, told CNN over email.

Leighton's six children, which range in ages from 5 to 17, are among the millions returning to in-person instruction while Louisiana faces a spike in Covid-19 infections.

Louisiana has seen an "astronomical" number of Covid-19 cases during the latest surge, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards, as infections are increasing particularly among younger populations.

Leighton is trying to mitigate the risk of infection among his children by asking them to shower once they come home.

"All six of them are wearing masks all day at school. For living in a heavy red area (Covid spread and Republican sense of the words), they are luckily not being harassed about masking up," Leighton added. "The mask mandate was re-issued in Louisiana, but there is no enforcement of it in stores and lax enforcement in the schools. Last year, bus drivers reported kids that refused to wear their masks, and the kids tell me the bus drivers are fighting with kids to put their masks back on again this year."

6:01 p.m. ET, September 10, 2021

Children are adaptable when it comes to wearing masks in class, Minnesota mom says

Sarah Vavra.
Sarah Vavra. (Courtesy of Sarah Vavra)

Mask wearing has become so common in Sarah Vavra's household that her 7-year-old wears one in the car despite not having to.

The charter school Vavra sends her children to in Roseville, Minnesota, has mandated mask wearing for all students, regardless of Covid-19 vaccination status, she told CNN over email.

That has gone a long way to easing some concerns, she said.

"The real precautions we are taking will be not using school transportation outside of a field trip, and no pre-care or after-care. Gratefully, there is flexibility within our work situation, and we can make sure there is always someone available for them," Vavra said. "For the parents who think it's asking too much of children to wear masks, you'd be surprised at how adaptable kids are if you don't make it seem like a negative thing."

In Minnesota, 6.5 million — or 87% — of the state’s 7.5 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 56.6% of residents are fully vaccinated.

Vavra hopes the vaccination numbers increase.

"While we acknowledge every family is going through their own unique hell, we don't ask for anything more than we ourselves do. We just want everyone else to get vaccinated (when possible) and wear masks so we can go back to normal (whatever that is) as soon as possible," she said.

5:59 p.m. ET, September 10, 2021

Florida school districts respond to ruling on mask mandate ban

From CNN’s Amy Simonson

Florida school districts reacted Friday to the state appeals court ruling in favor of Gov. Ron DeSantis, allowing his ban on mask mandates in schools to stand.

"The decision is disappointing, but we understood from the beginning that the legal battle over masks in schools would take time and not every decision would be favorable,” said Alachua County Public Schools spokesperson Jackie Johnson.

Leon County Public Schools, which includes Tallahassee, said they would not comment on the ruling and “will continue to mandate masks” through eighth grade, according to spokesperson Chris Petley.

Brevard Public School System spokesperson Katherine Allen said they had “not been notified of any changes to our current policy at this time.”

There will also be no changes in the mask policy at Lee County Public Schools, according to spokesperson Rob Spicker, who said “the mask requirement remains in place.” Lee County includes Fort Myers.

Orange County Public Schools, which includes Orlando, said they will “continue to monitor the court proceedings.”

“Our current policy remains in place through October 30,” said spokesperson Michael Ollendorff.

CNN has reached out to Miami-Dade Public Schools, Palm Beach County, Sarasota County, Duval County, Manatee County, Osceola County, and Hillsborough County but did not immediately hear back. 

5:30 p.m. ET, September 10, 2021

Florida State student does not want a "normal semester at the expense of my classmates"

(Courtesy Hannah Fagan)
(Courtesy Hannah Fagan)

A return to in-class instruction has left Hannah Fagan "deeply concerned that a Covid outbreak will occur" this semester at Florida State University, where she's a junior.

One of the first red flags Fagan saw upon returning to campus was how the syllabi for all her classes said face masks were expected but not required, she told CNN over email.

"Although this is in order to avoid contradicting the state government, I feel uneasy with this policy," she said. "Florida State has returned to full capacity compared to pre-pandemic years, so some of my classes have 100 or more students, all while utilizing the same packed classrooms. I know many freshmen who are scheduled to be attending class in lecture halls on campus that have a capacity of more than 300 people."

Fagan's concerns are not unfounded.

Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Florida and Arkansas have less than 10% left of their intensive care unit bed capacity following a rise in Covid-19 infections, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

In Florida's 15 largest school districts, at least 21,869 students and 4,481 employees have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of school, according to a CNN analysis.

Fagan is doing all she can to protect herself; which includes wearing a mask indoors and carrying hand sanitizer everywhere she goes, she said. And yet despite receiving the Covid-19 vaccine in May, the fear of infection persists.

"I cannot overstate how afraid I am of being a part of one of these large classrooms, filled with students in communal living situations, without any sort of mask or vaccination requirement," she said. "Although I want a normal semester just as much as can be imagined, I do not want a normal semester at the expense of my classmates."

A possible change: A Florida judge ruled against Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday and allowed schools in the state to mandate face masks while the case is appealed at a higher level.

The ruling from Second Circuit Judge John Cooper, effective immediately, means the state of Florida must stop enforcement of banning mask mandates — which ends sanctions against several school districts that have implemented such mandates.

The decision comes amid heated showdowns between the state and some local school districts, which have insisted on requiring students to wear masks amid a surge in Covid-19 infections.

In late July, DeSantis, a Republican, issued an executive order that directed the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Health to issue emergency rules giving parents a choice on whether their children should wear masks in class. The state threatened to withhold funding from districts that violated the order and required masks for everyone.

Even so, 13 Florida school districts have now implemented a mask mandate without a parent opt out in defiance of the governor's position.

Cooper ruled against DeSantis' order two weeks ago, saying the governor overreached and did not have the authority to ban school districts from implementing mask mandates without a parent opt out.

Reporting from CNN's Mallory Simon contributed to this post.

4:54 p.m. ET, September 10, 2021

Georgia mom pulled her kids out of school due to how the district is handling Covid-19

(Courtesy Danielle Cady)
(Courtesy Danielle Cady)

A lack of transparency over confirmed Covid-19 cases, no social distancing and no mask requirement are among the reasons why Danielle Cady decided to take three of her children out of a physical classroom to homeschool them instead.

Cady, of Houston County, Georgia, said the district her children were once in just reported hundreds of Covid-19 cases following the start of the school year.

"I feel like we are being punished for doing all the right things: being vaccinated, wearing masks, distancing, taking Covid seriously," she told CNN over email. "The loudest local voices are the anti-vax and anti-maskers. It’s a very hostile local environment. I am angry. My kids are angry. They want to be in school and with their friends. I wish that I felt like Georgia had any interest whatsoever in protecting their health, but I do not. It will take a lot to bring back my trust in this school district. ... I really believe I was backed into a corner and given no other option but to homeschool my kids to keep them safe. We will make it work."

Cady said her three older children are in a Pfizer vaccine trial. She said she enrolled them in it in June 2020 and none have had adverse reactions.

Their involvement in the vaccine trial couldn't have come at a more crucial time.

Kids as young as 12 can be vaccinated against Covid-19, but younger children aren't eligible yet. Children made up nearly a quarter of the reported cases for the week ending Aug. 26. The numbers have "increased exponentially," reaching levels the United States hasn't seen since last winter, the American Academy of Pediatrics said Aug. 31.

Children have largely been spared the worst of Covid-19 — hospitalizations and deaths are more rare for children than for adults, although children's hospitals are filling up in Covid-19 hotspots around the country.

Trial data are still being gathered for Covid-19 vaccines for younger children. Once the vaccine companies have trial results, they'll need to submit the information to the US Food and Drug Administration, which will assess the vaccines for authorization.

2:53 p.m. ET, September 10, 2021

More than 400 universities are requiring Covid-19 vaccines as classes begin this fall

From CNN's Neelam Bohra and Justin Lear

Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill can voluntarily share their Covid-19 vaccine status with administration, but those who show up on campus unvaccinated or choose not to disclose their vaccination status will have to get tested for coronavirus weekly.

When apprehensive students started approaching Benjamin Meier, a professor of global health policy at UNC-Chapel Hill, about their peers buying fake vaccine cards, he began to worry about the effectiveness of university policy. Classes at will begin on August 18.

"(Students) explained to me that they can easily purchase fake vaccine cards," Meier said. "I asked, 'Do you know students who have submitted these to the university?' Every one of them did."

A spokesperson for UNC-Chapel Hill said they have not found any instances of students uploading fake vaccine cards. The spokesperson did not respond when asked how the university distinguishes between real and fraudulent vaccine cards in photos.

Vaccination cards were not designed to be long-term proof of Covid vaccinations, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The cards can be easily forged but it's a federal crime, which is punishable by a fine and up to five years in prison for forging government seals found on the card. Forging a card could also violate university rules and students could face punishment from their schools as well.

But as thousands of students plan to return to primarily in-person instruction over the next few weeks, identifying fake cards through the photos in online portals may pose a challenge for university administrators.

"We were talking about handing out fake vaccine cards as a form of protest to make it clear to the administration that if they did end up trying to mandate vaccines, that the students will and can find ways around that," said Dylan Dean, the chair of Young Americans for Liberty at Montana State University. "I chose against doing that because it is a crime."

More than 400 colleges and universities across the country are requiring students to be vaccinated before returning to campus, including Duke University and the universities of IllinoisPennsylvaniaNew Mexico and California.

While some universities expect students to be fully vaccinated by the time they arrive on campus, others only announced their requirement policies in the past few weeks and will allow students to receive inoculation by a certain date.

Many of these universities also have vaccine exemption applications for students with religious or medical opposition to getting vaccinated, but students ideologically opposed to the vaccine could face disciplinary action or be barred from enrolling if they do not provide proof of vaccination and are not exempt, according to policies at Duke and the University of California system.

1:50 p.m. ET, September 10, 2021

Mom says daughter "backed away from" medical career after seeing pandemic's impact on health workers

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Megan Roller
Megan Roller (Courtesy of Megan Roller)

Oregon mom Megan Roller is “extremely anxious” about her 18-year-old daughter Jadyn starting her first year of college at the University of Oregon later this month.

Even though Jadyn is fully vaccinated, Roller said she is afraid that spread of the Delta variant by some students could cause campus to be shut down.

“She missed out on junior and senior prom, a ‘normal’ graduation, all her senior events, going to state twice for her choir, so she would be devastated if her first year of college was affected too,” according to Roller. 

Roller also said her daughter was considering becoming a nurse or doctor a few years ago and has taken classes in medical training in high school, “but watching the stress and long hours of the pandemic, she completely backed away from that idea.” 

“She realized she doesn’t want to enter that field, especially witnessing what the pandemic has done to medical workers. But because of those classes, she knows how viruses work and knows how to watch for mutations that are starting in other countries and how it differs,” according to Roller.

University of Oregon requires all students and staff to be vaccinated. Those who file for an exemption must undergo weekly testing, according to the school’s website. Face coverings are also required indoors during classes.

Roller said her daughter is also taking her own individual precautions.

“She is staying masked around people she doesn’t know, as well as keeping her group of people she does hang out with unmasked to a small number. She is also fully stocked on cloth masks, medical masks, a few N95 masks, hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap and antibacterial wipes,” according to Roller. 

Roller said her family has taken the pandemic very seriously, as she is immunocompromised and taking medication for psoriasis arthritis and her husband has chronic pancreatitis due to diabetes. 

1:09 p.m. ET, September 10, 2021

Many big businesses are now requiring proof of vaccination

From CNN's Alexis Benveniste

Corporate America is getting serious about vaccines.

In the last week, companies from Disney to Walmart to Google have begun mandating their employees get shots to protect against Covid-19. Even famed restaurateur Danny Meyer said it's not just his employees who must be vaccinated: He won't serve customers in his restaurants without proof they've gotten the vaccine.

Momentum for vaccine mandates has been building, and President Joe Biden announced a requirement that all federal employees and on-site contractors be vaccinated or submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements.

Here are the companies that have announced Covid-19 vaccine requirements for at least some of their employees.


Google (GOOG) CEO Sundar Pichai sent an email to staff recently announcing a vaccine requirement for employees who are coming back to the office. The policy would roll out in the United States and in other regions in the following months as vaccines become more widely available, Pichai said. It's not clear how Google plans to enforce the policy.


All Facebook (FB) employees must get vaccinated before coming back to the office, the company announced Wednesday. "As our offices reopen, we will be requiring anyone coming to work at any of our US campuses to be vaccinated," Lori Goler, Facebook's VP of people, said in a statement. "We will have a process for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons and will be evaluating our approach in other regions as the situation evolves," she added.


Walmart (WMT), the nation's largest retailer, said all its US-based corporate employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 4, according to a Friday memo from Doug McMillon, the company's president and CEO. This mandate does not apply to Walmart's store employees, but it will soon implement a new process to verify their vaccine status, and is offering employees the chance to get vaccinated while on the clock (along with up to three days paid leave for any reaction to the shot). The company is also doubling its current vaccine incentive to $150; current employees who get vaccinated and new employees who were vaccinated before they started at Walmart are all eligible to receive the bonus.


Disney (DIS) is requiring all its salaried and non-union hourly employees in the US to be vaccinated. Workers who are working on-site but are not yet vaccinated must get their shots within the next 60 days, according to a statement from the company to CNN Business. Employees who are still working from home must provide the company with proof of their vaccination before returning to work. The company also said it has started discussing vaccine mandates with the unions representing its workers. The company is also mandating that all new hires be fully vaccinated before beginning their jobs.

Union Square Hospitality Group

At Union Square Hospitality Group, which operates restaurants and event businesses in New York and other US cities, all employees and customers must be able to prove they're vaccinated — a rule that will go into effect September 7. CEO Meyer told CNN that he would call it a "company policy" instead of a "mandate."