Three members of the Lodi Unified School District’s Board of Education will be taking a resolution to the state legislature soon, asking lawmakers to lift mask requirements for students.

The board unanimously approved the resolution to resounding applause during its Tuesday night meeting.

“This is the first step that we’ve got to go through to get this thing lifted,” board member George Neely said prior to the resolution’s approval. “But this serves two purposes. One of them is, that it’s going to give our legislative committee a tool to take to legislators and hand it to them and say this is how the board feels. The second thing it’s going to do, though, is to give something to parents to take to legislators and voice their opinion about it to the people who can actually change it. I strongly support this. I think it’s time we back off on our classrooms and try to get things back to, or closer, to normal.”

The resolution approved Tuesday night states that while the district will continue to follow all health and safety requirements, parents have voiced concern related to their children wearing masks at school.

Those concerns, the resolution states, include mental wellness, academic achievement and health risks.

Even though Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health ended the Blueprint for a Safer Economy Tuesday, which ended the color-coded tier system, physical distancing and capacity limits on businesses, the state is still encouraging the use of facial coverings in certain situations.

People who are not vaccinated must continue to wear masks indoors and outdoors. Masks are still required for people using public transit; in hospitals, long-term care facilities and homeless shelters; and indoors in public schools, childcare facilities and other youth settings.

The board’s legislative committee consists of Neely, board member Ron Heberle and president Ron Freitas, all of whom have voiced opposition to closed campuses and mask wearing during the last 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heberle said he hopes the resolution will send a message, and all that is needed now is for legislators and public health agencies to listen.

“I believe as an individual it needs to be done for our students,” he said. “It just seems so hypocritical that it depends on the time of day, it depends on yesterday versus tomorrow. The research is there, we talk about all the time, follow the science. Well, they’re telling us, and we know what this is doing to our kids and it is not a positive thing.”

Tom Moccia, one of many parents in the district who has voiced opposition to state guidelines during the pandemic, thanked the board for what he said was “taking a stand to fight for children and mental health.”

“I’ve seen first hand what this lockdown has done to our kids, and I can tell you for every one case of depression or self mutilation or self harm or suicide that we know of, there’s 10 that we don’t,” he said. “The mask requirement has been debunked. It has been ridiculous, and I’m glad you are fighting for our children’s rights to mask or not mask.”

Board member Joe Nava said he supported the resolution because masks are an impediment to student learning and a detriment to their mental health and well-being.

“When those youngster wear a mask, can you imagine the anxiety that they have,” he said. “You can’t actually communicate with your classmates. And then you cant communicate with a teacher as facial expressions are very important to see as a teacher. Very few things are happening with that big mask in your face.”

While board members and Moccia said masks are causing negative impacts on children, some health experts disagree.

According to Dr. Kimberly Dickinson, a pediatric pulmonary fellow at Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Theresa Guilbert, director of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center Astham Center, there is no physical danger to children who wear facial coverings.

In an article the pair co-authored on, masks will not affect a child’s ability to breathe, focus or learn in school. Masks do not lead to a weaker immune system either, they said.

And according to Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a clinical psychologist in Princeton, NJ, children will not be impacted mentally if adults help them understand why masks are important.

Michelle Grupe, a member of the Let Them Breathe 209 group, which has voiced opposition to facial coverings for children in any setting, said parent involvement needs to be more outspoken and aggressive against state health department requirements.

The Let Them Breathe movement has several lawsuits against the CDPH pending, she said, adding that the board should continue advocating for students even if Tuesday’s resolution is heard at the state level.

“(The state is) going to require vaccinations for our children, I’m sure of it,” she said.

“That is also unnecessary. (Children) are the lowest risk group for adverse effects, and the lowest risk group for transmission. It makes absolutely zero sense to get the vaccination in children, who are not at risk and could possibly be at risk from the vaccination. We don’t know that. Trials aren’t done until 2023 and I don’t think our children should be tested with these.”

While children may be the lowest risk group for adverse COVID-19 effects, health experts still encourage parents to get their students vaccinated.

According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center pediatricians Anna Christina Sick Samuels and Allison Messina, some children can get very sick and suffer complications or long-lasting symptoms that affect their health and well-being. And although rare, COVID-19 can cause death in children, the doctors said.

The pair added that each child or adult infected with COVID-19 provides a chance for the virus to mutate and create a variant that may be resistant to vaccines.

Freitas said he recently traveled to a state that did not require face masks and described the experience as “night and day.”

“When you see someone without a mask, you see a smile. And that's what we haven't seen for 14 months,” he said. “And when you pass somebody who’s not wearing a mask, you say hello to them, and they say hello back to you. And this emotional imprisonment that we’ve been in just needs to stop, and I’m so glad that this board is taking this stance and moving forward with it for every single emotional and physical reason that we have.”

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