L.A. County to modify masking rules indoors for schools

SIGNAL FILE PHOTO: Students line up outside their classrooms on the first day of school at Newhall Elementary School in Newhall. Dan Watson/The Signal 081519

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department said Monday it would be modifying the indoor masking requirement on school campuses to bring them in alignment with state health policies.  

In a series of tweets released Monday, the Public Health Department said it would be moving from requiring masking in school settings to strongly recommending indoor masking requirements at child care sites and K-12 schools beginning March 12.  

“School districts may continue to require masking at schools and during school activities and are encouraged to consult with teachers, staff, parents and students as they consider the appropriate safety protections for their school community, recognizing that many individuals may want to continue additional protections,” officials said via a tweet. “We will review any additional state guidance changes and provide an update on additional modifications to L.A. County safety measures during tomorrow’s Board of Supervisors meeting.” 

On Monday, Sacramento state officials announced they would be lifting mandatory masking mandates in schools — a decision that was praised by county Supervisor Kathryn Barger.  

“This is a much-needed step in the right direction,” Barger send in a prepared statement. “It gives local jurisdictions the right to decide whether their children should wear masks in educational settings. Those decisions should be made based on local data, along with parent and staff input.” 

“It’s clear to me that, as the Omicron surge continues to decrease in L.A. County, we need to implement flexible COVID-19 infection control policies and move away from rigid approaches,” Barger added in reference to the state restrictions lifting. “The time for compulsory masking mandates has come to an end.”  

On Monday, a handful of local school board officials, at both the elementary school and high school levels, expressed their excitement over the future change in policy. 

“I myself am very happy with this decision,” said Joe Messina, president of the William S. Hart Union High School District governing board, “and I hope the rest of the board members will be as well.”  

Messina added that he believes that there will be discussions about how the district will proceed in the coming meetings. The Hart board was slated to discuss the possibility of sending a letter — a letter that mirrored one sent by the Newhall School District in early February — to the Sacramento Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom arguing for more local control as it pertains to masking and on-campus health guidelines.  

“It’s very welcome news for us, (because) it’s a confirmation that we have reached a turning point in the pandemic, where it’s safe for students and staff to remove their masks,” said Donna Rose, president of the Newhall School District governing board. “We realize that some parents and staff will still want to wear a mask and we’re going to support them as well.”  

The elementary school district board president said the district had been advocating for a month to gain a little bit more leeway, and that the district would be distributing a communication to their parents on Monday night explaining how the optional masking would work come March 14. 

“We appreciate the support of our community and staff as we work through this,” Rose added. 

In a statement of her own sent out on Monday evening, L.A. County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo said the change came on the heels of an “increased demands for parent choice,” but safety and wellbeing of students and school staff continues to be the L.A. County Office of Education’s No. 1 priority. 

“We know that a layered approach that includes vaccination of all those eligible, staying home when ill and regular testing minimizes the spread of COVID-19,” Duardo said. “These actions help disrupt the disparities exacerbated by COVID-19.”  

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