On Monday, the Orange County Board of Education voted 4 to 1 to approve new school reopening suggestions, including not making it a requirement for students to wear masks or social distance themselves.
New recommendations by the O.C. Board
In their recommendations, the Board did approve some COVID-19 protection health and safety measures, including daily temperature checks, hand washing, and nightly disinfection rounds. The recommendations also call for schools to remain open this fall, calling remote learning during last school year an “utter failure.”
“K-12 children represent the lowest-risk cohort for Covid-19,” noted the O.C. Board of Education on Monday. “Because of that fact, social distancing of children and reduced census classrooms is not necessary and therefore not recommended. Requiring children to wear masks during school is not only difficult —if not impossible to implement — but not based on science. It may even be harmful and is therefore not recommended.”
“Among the many compelling expert arguments for reopening our schools, a number of us were also struck by something different, something we might call advice for adults. Among our greatest responsibilities as adults is our responsibility to model courage and persistence in the face of uncertainty and fear, which is what many families are feeling with the mixed messages and confusion surrounding reopening of schools in the COVID-19 era.”
County Education Department, school districts, parents divide over the Board’s recommendations
In subsequent statements, County officials made it clear that the Boards recommendations are only recommendations, with local school boards and superintendents ultimately having the final authority on decisions such as social distancing and wearing masks.
“The board majority’s recommendations are not binding. Locally elected school boards and superintendents will approve and implement plans specific to their districts based on the needs of their schools and communities,” said Orange County Department of Education (OCDE) Superintendent Al Mijares in a statement to the press. “OCDE is working to support districts in that effort, and we remain 100% committed to following and sharing the guidance of the California Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency.”
In addition, the OCDE had already given their own recommendations in June, calling for online learning options, social distancing, and mandatory masks.
However, the Board’s suggestions had an effect overnight in Orange County. Parents have split on how they want O.C. schools to reopen.
Many parents have already formed social media groups calling for school districts to remain open with protections such as face masks, with many parents threatening to remove their children to another district or put them in charter or private school if their district doesn’t reopen along those lines.
“Many of us don’t think masks do anything and can be obstructive in classes,” explained parent Sharon Mattingly in an e-mail to the California Globe. “It’s crazy to force our kids on some of these new rules based on things that don’t work.”
Shocked parents, petitions, and early local school board decisions
Other parents have not only supported additional health guidelines like mandatory masks, but have called for the county to follow in the footsteps of Los Angeles and San Diego and make all public schooling this fall be remote.
“We were shocked,” said another parent, Laurie Wallace, to the Globe. “How could the Board even think of not recommending that students should wear a mask? We got a petition together and we’ve been writing to our individual school boards on our disgust with the decision. This isn’t an individual decision to wear a mask, not in schools. They’re kids, and they’ll be close to each other. They need to be distanced and they need masks so they don’t spread anything.”
“It’s crazy that I have to stand here talking to other parents that I don’t want their children to die.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition Laurie had sent to the Globe that asks Orange County officials to adhere to state public school COVID-19 safety guidelines had nearly 48,000 signatures on it. In addition, the Santa Ana and Irvine school districts both acted against the Board’s recommendations on Tuesday, with Santa Ana changing to a distance learning model and Irvine noting that it will not be following what the Board suggested.
With many districts expected to tell parents if school will be in physical buildings this coming semester and, if so, will they be following state or O.C. Board recommendations, all parents can do now is simply continue to fight for what they want.
“This is our children’s health and safety,” said a parent who wished to be anonymous to the Globe. “They aren’t pawns in some power play or some county feud. Their lives could be at stake over this. We want our kids to be safe and not bring the disease home with them to grandma. Because that’s what is at stake.”