Bay Area school districts signaled their intention this week to align their masking policies with the state when it lifts requirements for K-12 students next week, but some plan to keep their mask policies in place for the foreseeable future.
State officials said Monday that mask requirements for K-12 students will be lifted starting March 12, allowing local governments and individual school districts to set their own masking policies as they see fit.
The announcement drew mixed reactions from education officials in the greater Bay Area, but officials with the San Francisco Unified School District showed the most resistance, stating that it will not make changes to its masking requirements after March 11.
The district argued that health officials still strongly recommend the use of masks indoors even if they are no longer required, and that masking is “one of the least burdensome” ways schools can reduce the virus’ spread.
“SFUSD is actively following health and safety protocols in compliance with state and local public health guidance to curb the spread of COVID-19, so that our schools can remain safe, welcoming, and healthy environments,” the district said in a statement.
The district also said it would meet with labor officials before formally lifting its indoor mask requirement.
United Educators of San Francisco President Cassondra Curiel said in her own statement that the union would support optional masking indoors for students and faculty.
“We look forward to working with the district and city to find a collaborative path to ease mask requirements based on the needs of San Francisco students, families, staff and educators,” she said.
San Francisco public health officials also said they support the state lifting its school mask mandate, citing that the city’s 83 percent vaccination rate among all residents and the ability to reinstate mask requirements in the event of another surge.
“For now, with case rates continuing to drop, this is a safe step in a direction toward fewer restrictions,” Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip said. “We still have work to do to make sure we reach all children with vaccines and provide resources like masks to communities hardest hit, and we will work diligently with our community partners and schools to close the health equity gaps.”
South San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Shawnterra Moore said the district also plans to maintain its indoor masking policy after March 11.
“We have scheduled further discussion of this issue for our March 10 school board meeting,” Moore said. “Changes, if any, to our indoor masking policy will be communicated afterwards.”
In the East Bay, Mount Diablo Unified School District Superintendent Adam Clark said he plans to propose lifting the indoor mask requirements for students at the district’s March 9 board meeting while the Oakland Unified School District said it would wait for further guidance from the Alameda County Public Health Department.
In a statement issued Monday, California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd expressed support for the state lifting its school mask mandate while also urging local school officials to do what they feel will keep students and teachers safe from the virus.
Boyd also argued that the change’s effects will vary from district to district, and some students are ready to shed their masks while others “remain very afraid.”
“Change is never easy, and (Monday’s) announcement is bound to disrupt and destabilize some school communities,” he said. “As we transition to the next phase of living with COVID-19, we must go forward with respect, understanding and care for each other.”