By JOSH FRIEDMAN
The state of California is backtracking on the mask mandate it issued Monday for K-12 schools and has signaled it will let local school officials have some control over face covering policies.
Despite new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggesting fully vaccinated teachers and students no longer need to wears masks inside school buildings, the California Public Health Department on Monday issued guidelines stating schools must exclude students from campus who refuse to wear a face covering and are not exempt from the mask requirement. Schools must offer other educational opportunities for students who cannot come to campus because they will not wear a mask, the new state guidelines say.
Several hours later, the state Public Health Department backtracked, tweeting that local schools would have say on the reopening of campuses.
“Update: California’s school guidance will be clarified regarding mask enforcement, recognizing local school’s experience in keeping students and educators safe while ensuring schools fully reopen for in-person instruction,” the health department stated in the tweet.
Later Monday evening, a spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom said a revision to the K-12 coronavirus guidelines will allow local school officials to decide how to deal with students who refuse to wear masks.
The health depart guidelines issued on Monday factor in problems related to physical distancing, difficulty of tracking vaccination status, unequal treatment of students and the COVID-19 Delta variant in calling for a K-12 mask mandate.
“Masks are one of the most effective and simplest safety mitigation layers to prevent in-school transmission of COVD-19 infections and to support full time in-person instructions in K-12 schools,” the guidelines state.
Requiring masks reduces the need for physical distancing. Likewise, requiring some students to wear masks, but not others, could result in “potential stigma, bullying, isolation of vaccinated or unvaccinated students,” the guidelines say.
As currently worded, the guidelines require students to wear masks indoors, but face coverings are optional outdoors on campuses. Adults are required to wear masks indoors if they are sharing spaces with students.
Presently, the guidelines do not require physical distancing in classrooms, so long as other mitigation strategies, like masks, are implemented.