Kids walked out of class in one school district near Sacramento to protest the mask mandate, while other districts are just refusing to enforce mask-wearing, as tension grows over California dropping mask mandates in general — but not for schools.
Wednesday’s rescinding of the indoor mask mandate for vaccinated individuals may have had an unintended consequence. While California public schools will not drop their mask mandates until March 1 at the earliest, some districts, particularly in more rural and conservative parts of the state, are infuriated by the lag between a February 16 date for the mask mandate being dropped, and the March 1 date for schools. And because we are definitely not getting out of COVID-19 without at least a few more culture wars, EdSource reports that some school California districts are now flouting the school mask mandate.
“A lot of districts throughout the state are loosening up and just trying to get through the next two weeks,” California Small School Districts’ Association executive director Tim Taylor told Bay City News. “Parents are getting upset and saying everything is maskless except schools.”
From a purely empirical standpoint, the state is considering a variety of factors in the continuance of school mask mandates. Per Bay City News, these include “student vaccination rates, COVID case numbers, hospitalization rates and national and global trends.”
But the mask culture wars stopped being empirical a long time ago. And while defiance of the mandates is not widespread across the state, there are a few notable rabble-rousers. At Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills, near Sacramento, students walked out of class in protests of the mandates continuing in schools. A few dozen students walked out at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley. And Roseville Joint Union High School District in Placer County has now declared masks optional, in full defiance of state orders.
State health officials are not pleased with this. California Department of Public Health Director Tomas J. Aragon fumed in a letter to schools that “Unfortunately, some elected officials and school leaders have expressed the intent to violate the law — and risk their students’ safety — by failing to enforce the universal mask requirement for indoor school settings.” He added that “To be clear: failure to enforce the mask requirement breaches not only a legal duty, but also the first and foremost duty of every school leader — to protect students. Violation of mandatory public health guidance puts the health and safety of students, staff and their families, needlessly at risk, and also carries significant legal, financial, and other risks.”
School districts could be legally liable if a student or staff member contracts COVID-19 over non-enforcement of mask mandates.
This is a small number of districts acting in outright defiance of the mandate. And ideally, it will only be a couple of weeks until schools do officially drop the masks — the state said this week that it would wait until February 28 to reassess the situation. But it seems public health has little to do with the latest mask histrionics. And as the Roseville Secondary Education Association teacher’s union told Bay City News, “Teachers have now been put in a no-win situation no matter what we try to do.”
Related: Schoolkids May Get to Drop Masks In March, Not Before [SFist]
Photo: Mika Baumeister