The California Department of Health abruptly changed course on school COVID-19 regulations several times on Monday, removing many previously announced regulations and giving more control to local districts over a broad statewide mandate.
The largest mandate, mandatory face masks, still remains in place for all students, faculty, and school workers despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) previously announcing that they would not be federally mandated this school year. However, the controversial 3 feet social distancing distances between desks in classrooms was dropped. Health and Education officials had worried about the 3 feet rule being too much and not making sense for classes with a high number of students. However, by having so many students that close, the new rule only made the mask mandate more important to keep for officials, as it would keep a major way to reduce COVID-19 risk in the classroom.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) also did a complete 180 on a new policy in a matter of only 4 and a half hours on Monday. Around 3 P.M., the CDPH announced that schools would have to excuse all students who did not comply with mask regulations.
“Schools must exclude students from campus if they are not exempt from wearing a face covering under California Dept. of Public Health guidelines and refuse to wear one provided by the school,” said the CDPH in their initial announcement on Monday. “Schools should offer alternative educational opportunities for students who are excluded from campus because they will not wear a face covering.”
However, the CDPH was immediately besieged by a massive amount of backlash from educators, parents, and lawmakers alike.
“We had a bunch of people calling offices here at the Capitol,” explained “Dana,” a State Capitol staffer in Sacramento to the Globe on Tuesday. “We had so many at the end of the day that we forwarded them to a Public Health rep. The first thing she said was ‘Oh God, not more’.”
By 7:25 P.M., the CDPH health conceded and dropped the new mask enforcement policies.
“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,” tweeted the CDPH late on Monday.
UPDATE: 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.
— CA Public Health (@CAPublicHealth) July 13, 2021
Mandatory masks, new rules
While there was some initial worry about what this meant, several state officials soon confirmed that the student exclusion would be dropped and replaced local enforcement over the mandate, just as districts had been doing.
“Yeah, it’s not like districts have been openly defying mandatory masks,” noted Jane, a middle school Principal in Southern California to the Globe. “It’s just that different punishments make different sense. Forgotten masks for example. If the kids aren’t outright refusing them, then we always had prepackaged extras. And we will again this year. If there are refusals, usually it comes down to talking with parents, with holding some things, that sort of thing. Different things work better in different districts due to student makeup, student populace, and tons of other factors. So I’m glad they recognized this.”
Other new regulations announced Monday would follow CDC recommendations, many of which the state had ignored last week during the announcement of initial school guidelines.
School lunch physical distancing rules will need to still be enforced, but with the caveat that they should be eaten outside as much as possible. Vaccinations will also play a major part in the new rules, with school visitors, such as parents and volunteers, being allowed if vaccinated. Unvaccinated visitors are to be limited in entering schools.
All students who live with someone who has the virus will also not need to be quarantined anymore and stay at home. As long as they show no sign of symptoms, are tested twice a week, and continue to wear a mask, they will be able to attend class. However, they cannot participate in group activities such as sports for that time.
Vaccinations for students 12 and older will still not be a requirement. However, the CDPH still strongly encourages students to get vaccinated.
“It may not seem like it, because California is still being very strict about this, but these are significant rollbacks,” added Jane. “They didn’t budge an inch last year unless their hands were tied. Now it’s happening a lot. And when they tried to make things a bit more strict again, public pressure changed that course in only a matter of hours. It may not seem like it, but a lot of progress was made. I’m hoping for more soon. All educators are.”
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