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Districts gearing up to lift mask mandate in California schools

Posted at 2:46 AM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 05:48:13-04

It’s going to be a different view when kids go back to school on Monday. Two weeks ago, California Department of Public Health announced that masks would no longer be required in schools and childcare facilities. At midnight on March 11, that mandate was officially lifted. So, school districts are gearing up for this transition.

“It’s all about safety, it’s all about student learning, and we’re going to continue with that moving forward,” said Jennifer Irvin, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services at the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District. Even though masks won’t be required in schools, the state still “strongly recommends” them.

Irvin adds that even though students and staff will have the option to not wear masks at school, there will still be safety measures in place to help curb the spread of the virus, including handwashing stations, hand sanitizer, physically distance when possible, and requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing for staff and visitors on campus.

“We’re excited about moving forward and that students and parents have the opportunity for personal choice,” Irvin said.

Officials from the Arvin Union School District told 23ABC that they will follow the state guidelines, and students and staff will still be strongly recommended to wear masks.

To be clear, following California Department of Public Health guidance, we STRONGLY RECOMMEND students and staff continue to mask. We have made it this far together and I trust this next transition will be smooth with your support. Please remind your students to be respectful of other's decisions to remain masked or unmask and to be safe in all circumstances.

Monday, March 14th, brings a next step in COVID protocols for schools. Safety Measures for K12 Schools have been updated with California Department of Public Health guidelines updated on March 9th, 2022. Kern County continues to be indicated as a "RED" zone due to the instances of cases of COVID and the district will be following updated guidance which STRONGLY RECOMMENDS continuing to mask in school settings. Masks will continue to be provided to students/staff desiring to use one and long-term independent study continues to be offered for families who agree to the requirements of a written contract. Masks will be required in our quarantine rooms and nurse's offices as these are considered health care centers.

Physical distancing, improved ventilation in schools and on busses, staying home when sick, and getting tested when symptoms are present or if someone has been exposed are critical to our safety measures moving forward. School nurses and staff will utilize updated screening requirements and parents will continue to be notified if their child is exposed at school to make decisions regarding quarantine or testing to attend school under modified quarantine allowances as we transition to group contact tracing over the next week.

Arvin Union School District

Like with every transition, this too can bring out an emotional response from children, which is why Irvin adds that schools are working on resources to help the kids through this moment.

“For some students, they have not shown the bottom part of their face, so there are some hesitations, for some, and i know they are nervous, but we also have a strong student support team that will work with students: we have psychologists on campus, and again, it’s all about relationships, and making people feel comfortable.”

Officials stress that regardless of whether students or staff choose to wear masks at school, they want to make sure that everyone feels like school is a safe place and that their choices are respected.

Tess O’Rourke-Lepine, Multi-tiered System of Supports Coordinator at Panama-Buena Vista Union School District they are working to make students and staff feel comfortable at school with the changing guidelines. She says that people might feel anxious about coming to campus, so departments have already been trying to work with teachers, administrative staff and families about preparing and dealing with those feelings.

She adds that families can help by teaching their children about who they can talk to if they need help in certain situations. “How to find a safe adult, or safe peers if they do feel uncomfortable, so we’re definitely having these conversations within our department about how to best support the students.”

The Delano Union School District told us in a statement that they “will honor the choice of students and staff to go mask free beginning Monday.”

The Wasco Union High School District says since every family has different circumstances and may want their child to wear a mask or not for various reasons, they want to create a strong and healthy culture at school. They say in a statement “as a school district, we will continue to provide COVID testing, masks for anyone that needs one, and support for students that must stay home due to COVID or the requirement to quarantine.”

Along with this change, Kern County as a whole is also transitioning. Last week, Kern moved to the medium level of COVID-19 transmission. So public health says even though we do still have infections here locally, our progress can be celebrated.

“We know that we are moving in the right direction. Our daily cases, our hospitalizations, are all decreasing. So this just aligns with what we’re seeing locally that we are definitely seeing reduced transmission. However there still is transmission occurring, but we’re moving in the right direction.”