The rift caused by the return of the indoor mask mandate for the San Diego Unified School District on Monday grew on Tuesday, with the School Distgrict doubling down on the mandate, and those opposing the mandate entering School District Board races in an attempt to reverse the decision from within.
Earlier this month, San Diego County surpassed the “high” CDC COVID-19 community level of new cases and hospitalizations, spurring the district to return to the mandate for the first time since early Spring. While many hope that the mandate will only last for a few weeks, the increasing number of BA.4 and BA.5 variant cases will likely cause the mandate to seep into the fall semester.
“We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 community level according to the CDC and County data and we will communicate if there are any changes in two weeks,” the San Diego school district said during the weekend. “If your student is participating in summer school or other summer enrichment program, please send them to school or their program with a mask. If they do not have one, masks will be provided. Students and staff will be required to wear their masks while indoors only.”
However, this decision caused much protest from parents and residents, led in part by the Let Them Choose group. Those opposed to the mask mandate have said that school district has not taken many other factors into their decision besides “case” numbers. These have included vaccination levels, class makeup, parental decisions, class need, virtual learning deficiencies, masking harming academic development, masking not changing COVID-19 transmission rates, and multiple other factors.
In a KUSI interview on Tuesday, San Diego Unified Board President Sharon Whitehurst-Payne defended the District’s decision, saying that it protects students and that students who don’t want to mask will have options in the fall. Specifically, she said that students can come to school masked or stay home and use Zoom online school. When confronted with parental and student concerns, such as being uncomfortable wearing the mask during class, Whitehurst-Payne shot back that students should “just wear the mask.”
"They can go to our school that's online. They can opt not to return to the regular school, but to go to the school where they don't have to go to school at all other than via Zoom."
— Anthony LaMesa (@ajlamesa) July 19, 2022
San Diego Unified School Board Trustee Richard Barrera added that “When it rains you put an umbrella up and when it stops raining, you put the umbrella down and that is the analogy we are now using with COVID. What we saw with the Omicron surge in January was high rates of students absence and staff absences and that’s obviously very disruptive.”
Protests, School Board runs by mandate opponents
Parents opposed to the mandate reacted to the District’s decision by protesting outside the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, and filed to run in school board elections. While San Diego’s window to run has closed, many other County elections are still open. Parents, such as Let Them Choose member Sharon McKeeman, have filed recently. In McKeeman’s case, it is for a Board seat in the Carlsbad school district.
“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.” McKeeman said Tuesday.
Many political experts noted that San Diego’s decision may ultimately backfire by having multiple districts block possible mandates or reverse policies, potentially leading from a grassroots effort succeeding in getting rid of mandates.
“San Diego United made a gigantic mistake,” Vincent Goldman, an education researcher studying the effects of COVID-19 on K-12 students, told the Globe on Tuesday. “Many school districts have worked with the public to find the best means to keep everyone happy. Remote learning worked in 2020 and 2021, but now, after seeing so many negative long-term effects, it’s not cutting it anymore. But these schools are not hearing it.”
“There are several options over masking, but San Diego is taking a hardline approach to it, as are many others. And that’s not how you work with parents and others who want the best for students. COVID is quickly becoming where the flu is nowadays, but unless there is a big outbreak, they really don’t do all that much at schools besides encouraging more healthy habits.”
“I’ve been to many school board meeting across the U.S., and I get that dealing with parents who like to shout can be annoying. But they are taxpayers who have kids there too. A solution needs to be worked out. The best districts have done this, using statistics mixed with local needs and situations. San Diego is just using those CDC figures to dictate mandates. It’s more complicated than that.”
San Diego, as well as other Districts such as Los Angeles, are expected to announce more on masking mandates for the fall in the coming weeks.
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