The San Diego Unified School District announced earlier this week that mask mandates for the fall semester would be officially removed, becoming one of the last major school districts in the country to not enforce mask mandates against COVID-19.
For the last month, the SDUSD had doubled down on the masking policy, even going so far as to say that students shouldn’t even return to school if they aren’t comfortable wearing a mask. Many parental groups, most noteworthy being Let Them Breathe, quickly denounced the school district’s decision. Anger only grew after San Diego Unified Board President Sharon Whitehurst-Payne simply told upset parents and students to “just wear the mask”.
In retaliation, many protested, with others, Let Them Choose member Sharon McKeeman, opting to instead run for the school board to stop these changes.
“Masking has been proven to harm social, linguistic, and academic development. Masking children makes no difference in transmission rates and most kids have already had COVID and have strong immunity,” said McKeeman last month.
Faced with continued opposition, candidates ready to replace current board members, and growing support to end the mandates, the SDUSD finally decided to change course this week. While lower COVID-19 new case rates in the County have been cited as a main reason, supporters noted that a shift in the board, similar to what happened in San Francisco earlier this year, likely concerned many enough to end the mandates so close to the beginning of the school year.
“San Diego followed what happened in many other school boards during the past year,” explained Vincent Goldman, an education researcher studying the effects of COVID-19 on K-12 students, to the Globe on Thursday. “Even though COVID became less and les of a concern, the thought of parents feeling that strongly on the issue taking over school boards freaked them out enough to make changes. This is an election year in many districts, and school boards often don’t have a main united reason to vote the person out. Seriously, can you name your school board member off the top of your head? Most can’t.
“It’s like baseball umpires. You don’t know who they are unless they really distinguish themselves or they screw up enough times. And pushing for mandates now is screwing up to many. So even if it isn’t the official reason, you can bet that a lot of school officials, especially the elected ones, really changed course due to, in part, public outcry.”
While the mask mandate is no longer in place for now, the SDUSD warned that mandates could come back should new case rates rise again to high levels.
“In the event that we need to consider districtwide masking, we will examine multiple measures that are reflective of school-based transmission, such as number of schools meeting individual site masking metrics, absences and peer-reviewed studies,” added the district. “We know that COVID-19 is here to stay. We have entered into a new phase of this virus.”
Instead of being mandatory, masking will instead be placed as “strongly recommended” for at least the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.
SDUSD fall classes are to begin on August 29th.
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