School & District Management

In Abrupt Turnaround, California to Let School Districts Decide How to Enforce Mask Rules

By Howard Blume and Melissa Gomez, Los Angeles Times — July 13, 2021 5 min read
Kindergarten students sit in their classroom on the first day of in-person learning at Maurice Sendak Elementary School in Los Angeles on April 13, 2021. The latest revision to California's COVID-19 rules allows local school officials to decide how to deal with students who refuse to wear masks.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The complications of managing COVID-era education took a dramatic turn Monday, when California officials issued a rule barring unmasked students from campuses, and then, hours later, rescinded that rule — while keeping in place a mask mandate for all at K-12 schools.

Instead, the latest revision allows local school officials to decide how to deal with students who refuse to wear masks, a spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday night.

The statewide policy that prohibited unmasked students from campus had been intended to provide helpful clarity for local educators as they work to provide a safe environment for staff and students.

The original language, which became official at 3 p.m., stated, “Schools must exclude students from campus if they are not exempt from wearing a face covering under California Department of Public Health guidelines and refuse to wear one provided by the school.”

In addition, the guidance stated that “schools should offer alternative educational opportunities for students who are excluded from campus because they will not wear a face covering.”

But the rule was almost immediately reconsidered.

At 7:25 p.m., the California Department of Public Health tweeted out a change of direction: “California’s school guidance will be clarified regarding masking enforcement, recognizing local schools’ experience in keeping students and educators safe while ensuring schools fully reopen for in-person instruction.”

A spokesman for the governor’s office then confirmed that the phrasing about excluding students would be dropped. Instead, local officials would have discretion about how to enforce the mask mandate, just as they had during the school year just concluded, said Alex Stack.

Even with mask enforcement left to schools, the state’s COVID-19 safeguards rank among the most stringent in the nation. California health and education officials are acutely concerned with cases of the Delta variant on the rise as the new academic year approaches.

See Also

School bus picking up elementary student wearing surgical mask boarding at bus stop.
nycshooter/E+/Getty

Newsom and state public health Director Mark Ghaly have emphasized that the state is operating within guidelines released Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provide schools ample flexibility and prioritize the full reopening of campuses. Under the CDC guidelines, for instance, school officials could choose not to require masks for vaccinated students. Unvaccinated students, however, should be masked and separated by at least three feet — part of multiple layers of available safety measures, including good ventilation, campus sanitizing and frequent hand-washing.

The digital platform Burbio, which earlier tracked school reopenings, has added a tracker on mask mandates. California is one of 10 states it lists as requiring masks. Others include Washington, New Mexico, North Carolina, and New York.

Some states have defined their own rules outside of CDC guidance. Arizona lawmakers have prohibited masks requirements in schools, which some public health experts have decried as foolhardy, with more contagious and possibly more virulent COVID-19 variants on the rise. Others among the eight states that ban mask mandates include Texas, Arizona, Vermont, and South Carolina, according to Burbio.

Three states — Illinois, Michigan, and West Virginia — make mask-wearing contingent on vaccination status. Other states offer varying degrees of local flexibility.

Only children 12 and older are currently eligible to be vaccinated, but many, although eligible, have not been inoculated.

Requiring masks “seems to be a safe course for ensuring that every student can come back to school in the fall,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who has reviewed the state health rules. “I certainly see the logic of it.”

See Also

Blue illustration of global COVID-19 line graph and bar chart showing an increase.
iStock/Getty Images Plus

For the most part, the rules released Monday expand on what state officials indicated Friday — that masks would continue to be required even as other aspects of schooling, such as the length of the school day, returned to normal.

Some parents said the new rules were overcautious and counterproductive.

“There are 50k maskless Dodger fans drinking, eating, and shouting: no testing, masking, screening, or vaccination mandate. But schools aren’t safe?” said Christie Pesicka, an elementary school parent in Los Angeles and a leader of the local parents group California Students United. “Maybe if we rename school: church, band, concert, play structure, amusement park ... sporting event? The hypocrisy is mind-blowing!”

But the mask mandate could prove reassuring to many parents, said Katie Braude, chief executive of the local advocacy group Speak Up.

“Given the hesitancy of many families to send their kids back to school, especially in low-income communities of color, masks remain an important safety measure for now,” Braude said. “This is especially true as the delta variant spreads, and cases start to increase again in Los Angeles, which prompted the Health Department to urge fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors.”

Ilan Shapiro, a fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics, which called for schools to reopen more quickly, said the state guidelines, including the mask mandate, align with the organization’s recommendations.

“It’s a good time to reflect on how we can protect our kids” as well as school community members, Shapiro said. “It’s the teacher that has diabetes, the administrative people doing day-to-day work. There’s a lot of other people around schools. It’s not just kids, per se. It’s the community around.”

Students may not be sent home if they forget a mask or lose a mask. Schools must provide masks as needed. Staff also must wear masks when in contact with students, regardless of vaccination status.

The state and the CDC also want to limit potential disruptions caused by overaggressive quarantine policies. They have updated rules to limit when and how long students must remain isolated from classmates.

For example, when an infected student and an unvaccinated close contact are both wearing masks, the contact may continue to attend school if that student is asymptomatic, continues to mask and undergoes at least twice-weekly testing during a 10-day period.

A close contact would be a person exposed to an infected masked individual for more than 15 minutes over a 24-hour period within 6 feet indoors.

Copyright (c) 2021, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management From Our Research Center Nearly Half of Educators Say Climate Change Is Affecting Their Schools—or Will Soon
Most educators said their school districts have not taken any action to prepare for more severe weather, a new survey finds.
6 min read
Global warming illustration, environment pollution, global warming heating impact concept. Change climate concept.
Collage by Gina Tomko/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Opinion 7 Ways Principals Can Support Teachers
Listening more than talking is one vital piece of advice for school leaders to help teachers.
13 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
School & District Management What Schools Can Do to Tackle Climate Change (Hint: More Than You Think)
For starters, don't assume change is too difficult.
7 min read
Haley Williams, left, and Amiya Cox hold a sign together and chant while participating in a "Global Climate Strike" at the Experiential School of Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Across the globe hundreds of thousands of young people took the streets Friday to demand that leaders tackle climate change in the run-up to a U.N. summit.
Haley Williams, left, and Amiya Cox participate in a Global Climate Strike at the Experiential School of Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C., in September 2019.
Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Record via AP
School & District Management 'It Has to Be a Priority': Why Schools Can't Ignore the Climate Crisis
Schools have a part to play in combating climate change, but they don't always know how.
16 min read
Composite image of school building and climate change protestors.
Illustration by F. Sheehan/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty and E+)