State officials set date for lifting student mask mandate

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By Collin Breaux

The day that many Capistrano Unified School District parents and students have been waiting for has finally arrived.

Nearly two years after COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic, California authorities have announced that indoor mask requirements for students on campus will be lifted on March 12.

“After March 11, in schools and daycares, masks will no longer be required but will be strongly recommended,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press release issued by his office on Monday, February 28, announcing the upcoming change. .

The announcement mentions that California leaders are adjusting their policies “based on the latest data and science.” COVID-19 case rates have recently trended lower and life is back to much of what it was before the pandemic.

Student mask requirements have sparked a major backlash in CUSD, where parents and students have come forward to speak out against the mandate at board meetings and staged outings from school campuses in opposition.

Students have also recently attempted to enter classrooms without masks to demonstrate against the requirement, including at Dana Hills High School.

CUSD officials have repeatedly said the district must follow state guidelines and have urged California officials to roll back mask requirements for students. Masks are not required outside on campus, such as when students are at lunch or recess.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, also addressed the upcoming policy change during a live teleconference shortly after Newsom’s announcement.

“Safe in-person instruction is essential. This particularly concerns vulnerable populations who depend on schools not only for school education, but also for essential services, essential activities,” said Ghaly. “Some people depend on it for meals and basic support.”

CUSD campuses reopened in late 2020 after initially closing schools to in-person instruction, and was one of the first school districts in California to reopen.

“We need to make sure there is a low risk of catching COVID in schools, both for students and staff,” Ghaly said. “We must remain ready to adapt as the virus conditions adapt.”

Two separate resolutions on the agenda for the CUSD board meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 2 address the regulation of student masks. One, introduced by administrators Judy Bullockus and Gila Jones, directs the superintendent of CUSD to exercise local responsibility in enforcing mask-wearing in the classroom.

The resolution quotes Newsom, who in July 2021 said enforcing mask-wearing in schools and school curricula has always been a local responsibility.

“Because suspending and excluding students from school when they refuse to wear masks in classrooms is in direct conflict with our mission to educate and prepare our students and our commitment to their success, it is proposed that the District exercise our authorized local responsibility as explained by Governor Newsom and amend the current policy of enforcing mask wearing in Capistrano Unified School District classrooms,” the resolution reads.

The second resolution, presented by Trustee Lisa Davis, recommends the district adopt a “no enforcement” policy with masks.

“As a district, we will continue to post all recommendations from the CDPH indicating their suggestion to wear masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Davis’s resolution said. “A non-enforcement policy allows staff, teachers and families to choose mask-wearing and allows education to return to a more normal environment.”

Newsom, in his announcement, also said mask requirements will be lifted on March 1 for unvaccinated people, “but will be strongly recommended for all individuals in most indoor settings.” Monday’s announcement also allows local jurisdictions to keep mask requirements in place, if they choose.

Masks will still be needed in public transportation, emergency shelters, health care facilities, jails and jails, homeless shelters, and long-term care facilities, as these are considered “high transmission” environments.

Oregon and Washington are also adopting masking policies similar to California.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other southern Orange County news as editor of The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com.

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