After learning of state guidelines requiring students and staff wear masks indoor this fall, the Lodi Unified School District’s Board of Education has asked a recent resolution it approved be sent to more government officials for consideration.
During a Tuesday night discussion of AB 104, the pupil instruction bill approved in Sacramento, board members directed district staff to send a plea for relaxing mask requirements to the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, San Joaquin County Public Health Services, and possibly Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“If we have to forward our resolution to the governor, the secretary of state, or we have to send it to whoever, then let’s do it,” board president Ron Freitas said. “If we have to do a carpet bombing of our resolution in Sacramento, I have no objection to it.”
In June, the board authorized a resolution asking state lawmakers to consider allowing students in kindergarten through 12th grade to attend school without wearing masks.
The resolution was sent to Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D- Elk Grove, and State Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, both of whom represent Lodi in their respective legislative districts.
But earlier this week, the California Department of Public Health issued new guidelines requiring students and school staff to wear masks indoors while on school campuses, regardless of vaccination status, seemingly quashing the board’s resolution.
On Tuesday, the board directed staff to alter language in future communication with lawmakers and county and state health departments to make masks on campuses optional, both indoors and out.
“If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask,” board member Ron Heberle said. “There’s no problem. It’s okay. But when we have kids out in P.E. and they’re running around the fence line of the school wearing a mask ... that just drives me crazy, because there are side effects to that. There are things that we have to do, so I completely agree with making masks optional inside as well as outside.”
Board member George Neely agreed, stating his wife taught sixth grade this year, and could not understand a majority of what her students were trying to say with masks on.
“They’re talking to you from behind the mask and behind the shield,” he said. “I have a tough time hearing, and I’ve got to think we have some teachers who have a tough time hearing as well. And when you’ve got a younger kids talking to you with a mask on ... when they say something I go, ‘Huh?’ I’m tired of it. It’s time we end this.”
When asked by the board what teachers in the district felt about the masks requirement, Lodi Education Association president Michelle Orgon said it was best to follow CDPH guidelines, as about a third of the union is not vaccinated for a variety of reasons.
Orgon said if masks were optional, it would be difficult for teachers and staff to determine who was vaccinated or not, and with six feet of physical distancing not achievable in the classroom, the new recommendation of three feet of distancing would not slow any potential transmission of COVID-19.
“We are seeing down in Southern California, outbreaks (are) still within schools in classrooms, so following state guidelines is what we would say at this point in time,” Orgon said. “I believe for the safety of everyone in involved, there is a personal decision, and I think wearing a mask to work here would protect students and keep them safe. And if that’s the guidance issued, that’s what we should be following.”
Los Angeles County this week issued a mandate requiring residents to wear masks indoors again as the COVID-19 Delta variant has surged in that region. On Wednesday, the county reported the fifth straight day of more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases being reported.
Parent and Victor Elementary School paraeducator Jenessa Weller said it was bothersome that her children, as well as others, have not been able to have “normal” childhoods due to wearing masks.
“This mask wearing is not normal,” she said. “It would be considered child abuse to cover your child’s face with a cloth all day. I just think it’s really wrong what’s being done to these children and adults are forced to endure it all day. I’m not so sure why everyone is going along with these federal mandates. It’s just a man-made rule and not a law.”
Parent Tom Moccia said if 15,000 Wimbledon spectators and some 50,000 Major League Baseball All-Star game fans can go maskless at sporting events, there was no reason for 30 students in a classroom to wear face coverings.
“The community is not asking that masks be banned in school. We’re asking masks be optional,” he said. “Just like being vaccinated, and a third of teachers have not been vaccinated. It is optional for them. Just as they have the option not to be vaccinated, they have the option to wear a mask. It pains me to hear a third of the teachers ... with what we went through last year, and the ‘we can’t go back to school until we get vaccinated,’ that a third are not vaccinated. It’s moronic.”
Morada Middle School science teacher Lisa Wilkins addressed Moccia’s Wimbledon claim, stating it was her understanding that those in attendance without masks were required to show proof of vaccination before entering the stadium.
In addition, she said while she is vaccinated, a lot of teachers in the district have not been vaccinated because they have health issues that may trigger adverse side effects with the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Many of our teachers did not get vaccinated because they have autoimmune issues,” she said. “They have underlying health issues. Some are undergoing IVF. We don’t have any evidence right now about what this vaccine will do if undergoing IVF. It’s not that they don’t want to. Many of them want to. But many of them have been medically advised not to. So let’s make that difference. It’s not always a choice.”
Dr. Cathy Nichols-Washer, Lodi Unified superintendent, said the CDPH could update its mask policy for schools on or before Nov. 1. With the district’s first day of school scheduled for Aug. 1, she said the best way to voice concern over mask policy was to contact CDPH, the entity that made the requirement.
“This board is not without compassion or awareness of what’s going on,” Freitas concluded. “Were we to see substantial spikes, or the need arise healthwise, then this board would take action to ensure that masks were required again in the classroom. With the threat level being what it is and the recommendations of the CDC, it is pretty hard right now to find any other policy (to adhere to), and I’m glad this board is taking a lead on it.”