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A Debate on School Reopening Plays Out on Twitter

The reopening of schools and the wearing of masks have dominated the national coronavirus debate in recent weeks. President Trump has downplayed the importance of masks and pushed schools to reopen, tweeting his disagreement with what he called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “tough and expensive” school reopening guidance.

To get a sense of the school reopening and mask debates at the state level, FutureEd used Quorum’s public affairs database to scan the tweets of state legislators and executive branch leaders nationwide on the two issues during the month of July. The search captured 279 tweets from legislators, governors, state school superintendents, health department leaders and others.

We found that Democrats tweeted three times as often as their Republican colleagues on the topics and that Democrats believed wearing masks to be a crucial part of reopening schools while Republicans didn’t.

Of the 240 tweets from policymakers associated with political parties, Democrats tweeted 182 and Republicans tweeted 58. And most Democrats suggested that school reopening is tied to the number of people wearing masks in communities.

As one Democratic state representative from Michigan tweeted: “There’s no doubt all of us want to go back to normal, and see our kids return to school this fall. But that means we #MaskUp and socially distance now.” Many used creative hashtags—#MaskUpMichigan, #MaskUpNH, and #MaskUpHoosiers—to encourage community members to wear masks.

“When @GovRonDeSantis wants to put kids back into schools, doesn't do a statewide mask mandate, & plays down the risk of young people dying to #COVID19 please remember the stories of people like Byron & Mychaela. Siblings who died within days of each other,” a Democratic state representative from Florida tweeted.

Others called for a national mask mandate: “To protect our families from this virus, we need the Trump administration to issue a federal mask mandate. If more Americans wear a mask in public, we can save lives and put ourselves in a better position to send our children back to school,” tweeted Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Republicans, in contrast, discouraged a strong federal role in reopening policymaking. “Federalism at its finest. 50 states. Unique policies for each. We will see which ones work best. Thank you .@realDonaldTrump,” tweeted a Republican state representative from Oregon.

View a spreadsheet of the tweets sorted by state

Read the tweets sorted by date