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Students show up to school without masks as parents lose patience over mandates

Updates from the California Department of Health on the issue of masking in schools are expected on Feb. 28.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s indoor mask mandate is set to end on Feb. 16, but not for workers at health care centers or schools.

Parents across the state are growing increasingly frustrated over the continued rule. At least 20 parents protested their outrage in front of Natomas Park Elementary on Tuesday. 

Other demonstrations took place in Vacaville, Sonora, and in Placer County. Parents have circulated a letter calling for their district to end masking rules.

“The Placer County Office of Education has been advocating for the State to identify what benchmarks must be met to end universal masking in classrooms,” said Michelle Eklund, a spokesperson for the Placer Office of Education. “To date, we have not yet received such guidance. However, the State set February 28 as the date to consider lifting the mask requirement in K-12 settings.”

While educators are seeking guidance, their hands are tied. The California Department of Public Health requires that all schools enforce universal masking, a rule that local districts cannot opt out of, Eklund points out.

“The decision on universal masking in schools lies with the State and not with our local hardworking educational leaders, teachers or school employees,” Eklund said. “The Placer County Office of Education encourages families to advocate for their students' best interests with CDPH.”

Some parents are outright against masking, and others just want to make the choice for their own children. They cite potential mental health impacts, question the effectiveness, and say masks are simply uncomfortable.  

While a vast majority of children continue to follow mask guidance in California schools, a handful are now being openly encouraged by their parents to defy the rule.

About 30 students chose not to wear face coverings to Oakview Elementary School in Orangevale on Tuesday, according to Raj Rai, a spokesperson for the San Juan Unified School District. About half of those students put their masks on after a call to their parents, the rest were either picked up or supervised outside of class for the remainder of the day.

Nynalea Lee and Rachel Kattan sent their nine-year-old kids to class at Natomas Park Elementary without their masks. The students were separated from their classes and worked independently for the day.

“They both entered class unmasked. We’re counseled several times asking to be masked. They were brave, ended up at the office,” Kattan said.

This all comes a day after California’s Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced he would not be rolling back school mask rules during a much anticipated press conference on Monday. Dr. Ghaly said he’ll revisit the conversation at the end of the month.

California public health leaders continue to back the science that masks are safe and effective for helping slow the spread of coronavirus. Updates from the California Department of Health on the issue of masking in schools are expected on Feb. 28.


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