School masks

Students in Darsi Green’s 2nd grade class at Weaverville Elementary School in Weaverville wear Dr. Seuss hats that they made on March 2.

Local school district superintendents sent a letter Thursday to Gov. Gavin Newsom with a request to consider a criteria as to when masks can be removed during indoor settings and for the state to recognize the challenges mandates have brought amongst school districts.

The letter was sent with collaboration from Francisco Reveles, superintendent of schools at the Yuba County Office of Education, and school district superintendents at Camptonville Union Elementary School District, Marysville Joint Unified School District, Plumas Lake Elementary School District, Wheatland Union High School District and Wheatland Elementary School District. 

The letter requested “that the state identify what benchmarks must be met to end universal masking in classrooms.” The letter also requested for the state governor to clearly address the public as to how to engage with decision-makers over mandates. The letter also addressed its belief that the state should maintain medical, religious and personal exemptions with regards to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement among schools. 

According to Reveles, the letter was a collaboration among school superintendents to voice the issues that the mandates have created for districts at a local level. 

Reveles said the letter was not necessarily one that concerned legal challenges, but was more of a common voice to the governor. Reveles said he calls this crisis “COVID purgatory” because school districts are just existing around the uncertainty of school mandates and these issues are pushing more students to independent study. According to Reveles, superintendents are speaking on behalf of the voices of unions, staff, each district’s governing board and have a good understanding of what the needs of staff are. 

According to Reveles, due to mandates like masking, school districts are “experiencing and anticipating real challenges and obstacles to teaching.” Reveles said school districts are experiencing teacher shortages. He also addressed how there have been rising tensions among community members. Parents are demanding to be heard at the state level and the districts support that, said Reveles. 

“The governor and his team need to be more clear on how to engage with them directly for some of these policy decisions,” said Reveles. 

Reveles and other superintendents would like to get clear benchmarks from the state as to when masking could conclude. He said that in the past the governor has issued tier systems regulating stages of opening; however there has been no system in place for when students do not have to wear masks indoors. 

“Schools cannot operate open ended,” said Reveles. 

According to Amy Nore, community engagement and emergency response administrator for YCOE, it is important to understand that the YCOE and local districts have followed the California Department of Education and mandates, and that districts have always been in alignment with the CDPH, but what they are asking to see is more clarification and criteria to meet to not mask indoors. 

Reveles and other superintendents have received positive feedback from some of the people who were included in the email. People CC’d in the email were state leaders, local legislators, county supervisors, and community leaders such as Bi-County Health Officer Dr. Phuong Luu. Reveles said parents have also expressed positive reactions. 

“Local superintendents have continued to advocate for parental input on the vaccination mandate,” said Fal Asrani, superintendent of Marysville Joint Unified School District. “We have repeatedly asked the governor to not put administrators and our educational institutions in the middle of this conversation that is detracting from our work of educating our children.” 

According to Asrani, the district would like to know at what point the governor will end masks in classrooms. 

To date, there have not been requests from teachers to advocate for an opposition to the mandates at MJUSD, according to Asrani. As of Nov. 13, MJUSD has had a total of 15 positive COVID-19 student cases and three positive COVID-19 cases among staff. 

“Parents’ anger and frustration have been incorrectly directed at school districts, school boards, administrators, and staff because parents and community members are unwilling to accept that school districts are required to follow state laws,” said Asrani. “It is important to remember that we are liable for the health and safety of our children and staff.”

Nicole Newman, superintendent of Wheatland Union High School District, said the letter was drafted by superintendents to support parents, community members and their beliefs. 

“There was no hesitation amongst us to go out and do a letter,” said Newman. “This one is just scary to parents and as administration leaders we have to support our parents.” 

Newman said she is not anti-vaccine, but knows that being vaccinated is not the will of everyone in California. According to Newman, she is vaccinated but is not willing to push it on staff and students. In August, parents had a choice to send their children to school without being vaccinated and parents took the risk and sent their kids to schools. It is all about choice, said Newman. 

At the start of the school year, WUHSD was strongly recommending their students to wear masks but there were no consequences for those who chose not to wear one. However, WUHSD received a letter from the California Department of Public Health in which the district was threatened with legal and financial consequences if it did not follow masking protocols, according to Newman. If students did not wear masks when exposed to someone who tested positive, students had much longer quarantine periods than if they wore masks. Therefore WUHSD decided to require masks on campus, but Newman said having kids wear masks is not good for them emotionally and they are not able to connect with peers when they have a mask on. 

According to Newman, the statement of masking in the letter was issued so the governor could “tell us when this is going away.” According to Newman, in offices and banks, adults have the option to not wear masks but for kids in school it is a requirement. Newman said parents need to go to the Legislature and directly to the government and send letters so he can hear parents voices. It’s not us making these rules, said Newman. 

“We got to keep fighting,” said Newman. “Craig Guensler (superintendent at Wheatland Elementary School District) and I are taking charge and reaching out to local and county superintendents to write letters and send resolutions.” 

On Wednesday, during a WUHSD board meeting, a resolution calling for state officials to recommend and not require the COVID-19 vaccine for students and staff was passed. 

Newman said that since the beginning she has fought for teachers. When the vaccine came out, she advocated for educators to be moved closer to the front line knowing that her staff might feel more comfortable when working with students. She continues to advocate for the parents and staff of the district. 

According to the California Department of Public Health, students are required to wear masks indoors, with exemptions per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention face mask guidance. Adults in a K-12 setting are also required to use masks indoors when sharing space with students. Students are not required to wear face coverings outdoors. 

The CDC has various data from epidemiological studies which have demonstrated the effectiveness of masks. From a study conducted aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy, reports showed how face coverings used onboard were associated with a 70 percent reduced risk among living quarters in the aircraft carrier. 

“I highly encourage all Yuba-Sutter schools to adhere to California Department of Public Health K-12 guidance,” said Luu. 

Districts across the Yuba-Sutter region have considered bringing forth resolutions during school board meetings, as reported by the Appeal. MJUSD will vote on a resolution at the next board meeting on Dec. 14.

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