The San Diego Unified School District is one of the last major school districts to drop their mandatory masking policy on Monday, following the return from spring break, coming nearly a month after Governor Gavin Newsom announced an end to the state school masking requirement.
Like most school districts in the state, the masking requirement for students, teachers, and other staff dates back to late 2020 and early 2021 when schools began restarting in-person classes after months of having only remote classes. While many schools went around the order and started dropping requirements in late 2021 and early 2022, the vast majority, including all major school districts, stayed in line with the state mandate with COVID-19 variants Delta and Omicron affecting COVID-19 rates across the state.
However, COVID-19 cases have been in a free-fall across California since late January. The drastic number of reduced cases brought a growing number of parents and teachers to demand an end to statewide mandates in February, with individual districts to decide on masking policy instead. On February 28th, Governor Newsom finally acquiesced, announcing a firm end date on March 12th to allow for districts to use spring break as sort of a transitioning period. Within a week of the end date, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), a longtime masking proponent, ended the requirement. Others, such as the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), announced a “half and half” policy of allowing grades with older students, such as Junior High and High School, to allow the mandate to end on March 12th but keep it in place in lower grades until April 1st.
While most others, including Sacramento, quickly ended theirs in March as well, San Diego remained one of the few major hold outs, using spring break as a buffer period, with continued wariness of some parents and staff. The SDUSD, who also dragged their feet on removing the outdoor masking mandate and not getting rid of that until mid-February of this year, had, like most districts, faced a backlash when other major districts ended the mandate at a quicker pace than San Diego.
“It was so unfair. We saw the number of new cases in San Diego dropping more and more to well below where they had been even several months ago, but our children still had to wear masks,” Madison Green, a parent helped organize masking meetings at her child’s school in the last several months in San Diego, told the Globe on Monday. “It was so unfair. We were glad when they announced it, but we’re coming after LA and a lot of the suburbs here. Our kids had to keep up this indignity for several weeks after them. If they try and bring this back, they now know they will have to deal with all of these parents. They don’t want that.”
An end to the indoor masking mandate in SD
The SDUSD finally agreed to an April 4th date to drop their masking policy late last month. In a letter sent out to parents on Monday, the SDUSD noted that while masks would not longer be required, they will remain strongly recommended. Exceptional cases, such as a student coming in while personally under quarantine, will need to be required. Indoor masking mandates may also return in the future if COVID-19 rates go up again or if the SDUSD need to meet federal, state, or local guidelines when it comes to masking.
“Two weeks ago, we spoke with our advisors from UC San Diego, the majority felt at that time that removing a mask mandate was premature, as the local COVID-19 case rate remained high,” the SDUSD’s letter said. “Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) moved San Diego County into the lowest level of concern. For that reason, we believe it is appropriate to update our safety measures at this time.”
“Students, families, staff, and visitors on campus and at district sites will no longer be required to wear masks indoors following Spring Break, when they return on April 4, 2022. All other COVID-19 safety mitigations and protections including; air filtration, testing, hand washing, distancing when possible, self-screening for symptoms, case management, and contact tracing will remain in place. Again, following Spring Break, masks will be strongly recommended but no longer required (except when required by public health orders under special circumstances, such as students attending school while quarantining.)”
“We will also continue to monitor federal, state and local guidelines and remain ready to return to indoor masking if our community were to enter a higher level of concern.”
While San Diego’s school district is one of the final major districts to end their masking mandate on Monday, others, such as Oakland, are waiting until the middle of April to end their mask mandate.