The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) announced during the weekend that students will have to wear masks outdoors, as well as indoors, at all times.
According to the new SDUSD re-opening guide, the only time during the day that students will be allowed to take off masks in a non-emergency situation would be while eating and, when social distanced at six feet, during mask breaks and certain school activities such as athletics and physical education.
SDUSD now joins a few other school districts in California, most notably the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), in having the strictest mask mandates in the state by requiring masks to be worn at all times both indoors and outdoors except in certain situations.
“As San Diego Unified prepares for a safe start to the new school year, the district will continue to update our policies and procedures, as new information becomes available. We are strengthening the policy in light of the continued presence of the COVID-19 virus in our community,” said SDUSD officials in a statement. “Masks are always required indoors. Masks are now required outdoors at all times while students are on campus, unless they are eating. Currently, large-scale events are not recommended for any school sites due to the increased risk of exposure.
“We highly encourage students to take mask breaks outdoors. During these breaks students should maintain 6 feet distance from each other. Wearing masks outdoors lessens the likelihood of student exposure and allows more students to qualify for a modified quarantine.”
“Masks may be removed outdoors in certain situations and with certain distancing recommendations during physical education, athletics and performing arts programs.”
In addition, the new SDUSD guidelines also state that students need to remain masked while at bus stops and while on the bus, ensuring students will be masked even longer.
Students who don’t comply with the mandate will have several options. If students come in unmasked, they will be provided a mask by the school if there is no medical exemption. If they further refuse, they will be sent home to take virtual classes.
“It’s the safest way of continuing to keep kids safe and continuing to minimize the possibility that the virus could spread on a school campus,” said San Diego Unified School Board President Richard Barrera.
On Monday, most San Diego schools officially started the school year and welcomed students back to class. While compliance was high, “Most are just going along with it,” noted one SDUSD staff member during a break on Monday morning to the Globe. “We’ve had trial and error the last few years on how to best have kids wear masks and, if possible and if they are old enough, vaccinate.”
“We’ve also seen what other school districts do. Directly ordering them can lead to some not wanting to do it. Getting a mascot or favorite character to wear them as part of a show or virtual assembly comes off as patronizing. For many, what works best is just an honest conversation. Many already know the health risks. Some have had relatives or people they know get COVID-19. So by explaining why they need to do it really helps. We’ve also showed pictures of people wearing masks during other pandemics, like baseball players during the Spanish Flu in 1918. And that works best.”
“It’s not a matter of being against the requirement. That’s a battle happening outside the classroom. Whatever the rule is, and whatever keeps the kids the most safe, that’s what we’re doing. And yeah, they complain about them, just like adults do. But having an honest talk with them about why is best. We want this to be over as much as anyone.”
San Diego mandate challenged
However, the new mandate has been challenged for the last several days since being announced. Many have argued that, since children are the least vulnerable to COVID-19, that mask rules at school should be more lax. Others argue that the masks hindrances, such as reducing the ability to communicate, can hurt students from a developmental standpoint, despite experts saying that any reduced development will only be in the short term and will improve once mask requirements in classrooms are removed.
“Kids are the least vulnerable population, yet are struggling because of these ridiculous rules,” explained San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond to Fox News during the weekend. “Kids have suffered greatly from increased suicide rates, behavioral health issues and a lack of education.”
“We need to learn to live with this virus and let kids be kids. A school district requiring more than our Public Health doctors, such as mandatory masking of kids outdoors, should not happen.”
The new outdoor mask mandates are expected to stay in place in San Diego, Los Angeles, and other school districts for at least a few months due to a rise in COVID-19 cases statewide caused by an outbreak of the delta variant of the virus.