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Home / News / Education / California reverses order banning unmasked students from campuses

California reverses order banning unmasked students from campuses

Students in school during COVID
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Masks will be required for students and staff at California school campuses this fall, but revised guidance issued by the state means local districts will determine how to enforce the mandate if students refuse to comply.

Long Beach school officials said they would be developing specific guidelines.

“We’re committed to full-time, in-person instruction when the new semester begins,” said Chris Eftychiou, spokesman for the Long Beach Unified School District. “We appreciate that the newest guidance supports our commitment to in-person learning. As we approach the Aug. 31 start of the new school year, we’ll continue monitoring masking guidance in partnership with Long Beach Health and Human Services before establishing more specific protocols.”

California health officials on Monday revised their guidance regarding the use of face coverings on school campuses. The state rules initially banned children who refuse to comply with the mask-wearing mandate from campuses, but it later abruptly scrapped that order and left enforcement up to individual school districts.

“UPDATE: California’s school guidance will be clarified regarding masking enforcement, recognizing local schools’ experience in keeping students and educators safe while ensuring schools fully reopen for in-person instruction,” the California Department of Public Health tweeted Monday night.

The department’s initial update Monday stated that: “Schools must exclude students from campus if they are not exempt from wearing a face covering under California Dept. of Public Health guidelines and refuse to wear one provided by the school.”

Last week, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, said masks would remain a requirement for campuses statewide — despite federal guidance stating that fully vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear face coverings in school buildings.

The Los Angeles Unified School District did not immediately comment on Monday’s statements from the CDPH, but the district recently approved a contract amendment with the United Teachers Los Angeles union that also requires mask-wearing.

When the LAUSD begins its fall semester Aug. 16 — offering in-person instruction for all students — masks will be required for “all students, staff and visitors” over age 2 at district sites and on buses, according to current rules.

The LAUSD’s current practices also include instruction and reinforcement of proper hygiene, with hand-washing breaks built into daily schedules. The district will also maintain physical distancing, with the “standard goal” of six feet.

The CDPH’s latest mask guidance reads as follows:

  • Masks are optional outdoors for all in K-12 school settings.
  • K-12 students are required to mask indoors, with exemptions per CDPH face mask guidance.
  • Adults in K-12 school settings are required to mask when sharing indoor spaces with students.
  • People exempted from wearing a face covering due to a medical condition must wear a non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge, as long as their condition permits it.
  • Schools must develop and implement local protocols to provide a face covering to students who inadvertently fail to bring a face covering to school to prevent unnecessary exclusions.
  • Consistent with guidance from the 2020-21 school year, schools must develop and implement local protocols to enforce the mask requirements. Additionally, schools should offer alternative educational opportunities for students who are excluded from campus because they will not wear a face covering. Public schools should be aware of the requirements in AB 130 to offer independent study programs for the 2021-22 school year.
  • In limited situations where a face covering cannot be used for pedagogical or developmental reasons, such as communicating or assisting young children or those with special needs, a face shield with a drape can be used instead of a face covering while in the classroom as long as the wearer maintains physical distance from others. Staff must return to wearing a face covering outside of the classroom.

Guidance by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is billed only as a set of recommendations designed to “supplement — not replace” local rules and regulations.

It recommends multiple layers of infection prevention, such as encouraging vaccinations, social distancing of at least three feet between students along with mask-wearing by students and staff who are not vaccinated.

“We applaud the CDC’s commitment to ensuring that schools are fully, safely opened for in-person instruction,” Ghaly said last week. “Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in- person instruction. At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated — treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment.”

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