Debate begins about mask requirements in school this fall

(Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Masks can come off for most indoor and outdoor settings as of June 15 in California, but the California Department of Public Health has not issued guidance yet on whether masks will be required in schools this summer and fall.

But with California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly stating last week that individual counties can choose to continue with their own local mask mandates after June 15, already the jockeying on the issue has begun.

California overall currently has the lowest Covid infection rate in the nation, and young children are the least likely to become infected and transit the virus. But with only children over 12 eligible for vaccinations, the potential for spreading Covid within a school remains a worry for some staff and parents vulnerable to the disease.

In its opening bargaining position with Los Angeles Unified, United Teachers Los Angeles is demanding that the district continue Covid safety protocols, including masking requirements, physical distancing, cleaning and disinfecting of school facilities, and ongoing Covid-19 testing.

On Monday, in his weekly message to the community, Superintendent Austin Beutner indirectly responded by saying, “We expect students and staff will continue to wear masks until more children have been vaccinated, just as Dr. Anthony Fauci has recently stated. But August is still three months away and we can’t predict exactly what standards health authorities will tell us are appropriate at that time.”

In some counties, parents are pressing for removing the mask mandate now. Informed Parents of California organized a rally outside of the Placer County Office of Education Monday calling for officials to lift the mandate.

Jessica Stonehocker, a mother of three children in Rocklin, told the Sacramento Bee, “I don’t believe children wearing masks for 6-1/2 hours a day, five days a week, is physically or mentally healthy. My daughter tells me that it is hard for her to concentrate at school with her mask on. She says that it is difficult to breathe, has to constantly pull it up, she gets really hot, and complains of headaches.”

Nether Rocklin, Sacramento nor the other four counties in the capital region have their own mask regulations, relying for now on the state.

Melissa Brown, a parent in West Sacramento who is undergoing treatment for a rare, incurable blood cancer, told the Bee that her 12- and 8-year-old sons will continue wearing masks in school even if schools loosen mask guidelines.

“I know they said we can be around vaccinated people, but we don’t know who is and who isn’t,” she said. “We see it more as taking care of each other than seeing it as someone telling us what to do.”

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