Geography, Politics Most Likely Determine If California Districts Should Still Be Masked

Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris

California has sent the controversial issue of masking back to school district officials to decide when Governor Gavin Newsom announced Monday that the school mask mandate would end on March 12. Now district officials are trying to decide what’s best for students and how to adapt when families are so sharply divided over Covid protocols.

The state has also given school staff the option to go maskless if their provincial public health office and school district approve.

Some districts have already made decisions about masks and have sent letters to parents with their plans. Most stress that masks are still mandatory until March 11, and the district will follow the state’s recommendation and “strongly recommend” them after that date, although they won’t need them.

Other posts are more vague, leaving parents scratching their heads not knowing if “highly recommended” means the masks are still required or optional.

In California, sometimes masking decisions are more about geography and politics than infection rates. In more liberal areas, often with lower Covid rates, mask mandates are more likely to persist than conservative areas with much higher infection rates.

Los Angeles united, San Francisco unitedSouth San Francisco Unified and San Diego united are among the districts that have announced that they will maintain the indoor mask policy for the time being. San Francisco’s school districts have decided to continue the mask mandate despite the city’s high vaccination rates and low infection rates, while San Diego high Covid-19 infection rates

“Health officials have stated that masking is one of the least burdensome policies for schools and is effective in reducing transmission,” San Francisco Unified officials said in a statement. “It helps prevent infections among students and staff and their families and reduces missed school days.”

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district could relax some Covid protocols closer to the summer. In a Tweet Monday, Carvalho said the neighborhood will stay consult with his medical director and health partners to establish an updated mask policy.

“We respect the voice of all stakeholders and as such we will continue to engage with our labor partners, employees and families as we maintain and seek practices that are protective, responsive and in the best interests of school communities,” he said.

Carmel Levitan, a parent of a first and fifth grade student at Eagle Rock Elementary School and Magnet in Los Angeles Unified, thinks things are moving too fast. She would like to wait until all age groups can be vaccinated and there are higher vaccination rates.

“I mean, two months ago we were upgrading our masks to the best we could get,” she said. “And so it seems very soon that they are suddenly optional.”

Levitan considers sending her children to a virtual school.

The district’s teachers’ union, United Teachers Los Angeles, also wants the district to keep the mandate. In a statement to KTLA and other media outlets on Monday, Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of UTLA, said that although Covid-19 cases have decreased, there are still many unvaccinated children in schools and early childhood education programs, so it would be “premature” to drop the mandate.

The district’s contract with the union calls for masking for the remainder of the school year, so an end to the mandate would have to be negotiated with the union.

In the Central Valley, where masking or not masking has become a political statement, the announcement was celebrated by many.

“The Lodi USD Board of Education thanks our community for their cooperation and patience on all the challenges posed by the health pandemic and they look forward to the end of the mask mandate in schools,” said a statement from Lodi Unified Superintendent Cathy Nichols. -Washing machine. “We will continue to provide masks for those who want them after March 11, while supplies last. We appreciate your continued cooperation.”

The Bakersfield City School District announced on Tuesday that masks will no longer be required from March 14. That makes Camila Chavez, a parent and executive director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, nervous. Chavez, who has two elementary-age children in the district, notes that young children in Kern County are the least likely to be vaccinated.

Chavez said she is “afraid” of school districts rolling back mask requirements as Latino communities have been hit hardest by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Dolores Huerta Foundation has promoted vaccination, hosted vaccine clinics and distributed masks in the Central Valley.

Sacramento City Unified officials have not yet decided whether they want to end the mask mandates. parent Rashida Dunn Nasro don’t want that to happen. Three of her four children have contracted Covid-19 in district schools, she said.

Her children will continue to wear masks at school no matter what the district decides, she said.

“I’m concerned and I think they should have masks,” she said. “If they insist that they have to go to school, at least get the extra protection of the mask.”

Some district officials are concerned that the change to the masking rules could create conflict among students, who – like their parents – have widely differing views about the Covid-19 virus and the safety measures that have been put in place to contain its spread. For some, the pandemic has become political and masking is a symbol of a political position.

In a letter to parents February 28, Katie PErata, executive director of the Diocese of Sacramento’s Catholic Schools, said the mask mandate would end immediately for students at the 40 schools if their counties score low or average on the New US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rating system† The letter encouraged families to talk to their children about respecting the right of other students to wear masks.

“Whether or not a student wears a mask is a family decision and in the classroom we want to make sure no child feels uncomfortable with that choice,” says Perata. “This preparation is essential for inclusive and respectful environments as we move forward.”

San Juan Unified, which has seen an increase in mask protests by students since March 1 when the state removed most other indoor mask mandates, will also make masking optional on March 12. Recently, district officials began hearing from parents concerned about the prospect of removing the mask requirements. Some have family members at home with underlying conditions or who have not been vaccinated, said Raj Rai, a district spokeswoman.

“San Juan Unified recognizes that there are some very strong feelings regarding mask coverings,” a statement on the district’s website said. “For some people, easing these requirements will create anxiety and stress, while others will argue for a quicker step to recommend only a mask. Throughout the pandemic, San Juan Unified has had the guidance and advice of our experts in the field of health care. public health and epidemiology and that is what we will continue to do as we make this change.”

Alameda Unified is waiting for advice from the Alameda County Public Health Department before making a decision, said Susan Davis, a spokeswoman for the district. District officials will also consult with the school board and unions, she said.

Assia Day, who teaches at the district’s Maya Lin School, fears that some students will take off their masks on March 12, regardless of the district’s decision.

“Students in my third grade have told me that their parents don’t want them around other kids who haven’t been vaccinated,” Day said. “And I’m afraid the same will happen when the required mask mandate expires.”

Whittier Union High School District school psychologist Stephanie Murray said school staff should talk to students about being respectful and be vigilant to prevent bullying. Whittier Union High School Districtin Los Angeles County, huhhas yet to decide whether masking becomes optional.

“I know a lot of students choose to continue wearing masks, and I think part of the conversation will be that we don’t know what’s going on in the life of a child who is in the classroom, and that their peers recognize that everyone has a different level of comfort and may have loved ones who are immunocompromised, and we know they can have their own fears about wearing or not wearing a mask for many other reasons,” Murray said. “I think the vast majority of the students will be respectful.”

Brett McFadden, Superintendent of Nevada Joint Union High School District, in rural Nevada County, has witnessed many controversial school board meetings and protests over masking. He and other administrators have met with union leaders to try to restore confidence after the school board voted to revoke the mask mandate, ahead of the state’s decision, without renegotiating an agreement with staff associations which included masks under the required safety protocols.

McFadden hopes the district, now masking is no longer an issue, can return to normal activities, without the boisterous belligerent school board meetings and other disturbances.

But California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said: Covid Restriction measures, like masking, may come back if the virus rises across the state again.

“People don’t go back,” McFadden said. “Maybe that’s happening in Los Angeles, maybe in San Francisco, but not in Modoc County, Riverside County, Nevada County. There’s no turning back.”

EdSource reporters Carolyn Jones, Kate Sequeira, Emma Gallegos and Ali Tadayon contributed to this report.

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