Source: Darian Alexander
As many Americans continue to move on from the Covid-19 pandemic, some appear more eager to enter year number 2 of ‘fifteen days to slow the spread’! The California San Mateo Union High School District’s school board unanimously agreed to continue a policy of forcing face masks upon schoolchildren in a unanimous vote of 5-0 last Thursday. This news comes after the California Department of Public Health, which has guided much of the state’s policies regarding draconian Covid-19 restrictions in the schools, updated their guidance to no longer recommend school mask mandates.
The board meeting, which determined the continuation of the compulsory masking, surprisingly began with district Superintendent Kevin Skelly suggesting that the Covid-19 pandemic is dying down.
“We’re entering a less dangerous phase of the pandemic, sometimes when Covid-19 becomes endemic or other phrases like that,” Skelly said.
Skelly also shared a presentation slide claiming that the current Covid-19 datasets show a positivity rate of 1.72% in San Mateo County. He also explained several times that metrics would now be based on rates of hospitalization rather than cases (which were reported at a very low rate of just above 1%) but did not share stats on what those hospitalization rates were.
Reported thereafter were statements by the California Department of Public Health that after March 11th, 2022 that masks would no longer be forced upon children at a statewide level. The department updated their language to say that masks will now instead be “strongly recommended” rather than required, deeming them to be no longer compulsory.
The school superintendent stated that he first believed that 98 percent of students would wear masks if no longer forced, but said he later became “less optimistic.” He also stressed that while he believes everybody should wear a mask it is his view that the time to force it is now over. Additional recommendations asked for others to “respect personal choice” and for “no mask bullying.”
Skelly stressed that the most important reason, in his view, that the district should follow the new guidelines that deem masking “strongly recommended” and thus now optional is that “the District has followed CDPH and County recommendations throughout the pandemic and should continue to do so.”
“These are scientists, these are folks that make their living,” Skelly opined.
“We have to believe in a government that makes decisions based on our collective well-being and this is the decision they’re made, um, and, this is their recommendation.”
Several people called into the board meeting, including a parent who argued that there are no scientific studies showing a benefit for masking on children as well as a student who said that students are “done with the whole mask thing.”
Board of Trustees President Peter Hanley invoked a wildcard to the meeting, suddenly sharing a long-form email (also presented in the form of a Word document) to all of his fellow board members, even going as far as to emphatically contradict the superintendent and his position.
“Contrary to the Superintendent’s assertion that continuing the mandate would be counter to the state and country guidelines or the science, these measures have always from day one allowed local jurisdictions to impose tighter regulations– Santa Clara and Sonoma Counties just did so–to protect citizens. The entire Bay Area did so at the start of the pandemic,” read Handley’s email.
Discussion ensured from there, with only one board member suggesting the mandate should be dropped. Board member Linda Lees Dwyer had different opinions on the matter; she argued they should still force kids to cover their mouths because “it’s going to put additional stress on students because the ones who wear the masks are gonna feel different from the ones who don’t, you’re never gonna control bullying with who’s in who’s out…”
She then explained that in her view students have already dealt with enough stress for almost 2 years, and thus should be forced masked just a little bit longer.
“Students have been through enough in the last two years and I don’t wanna put that kinda pressure on them right now,” she said. Dwyer then acknowledged that the vast majority of students will likely not wear masks during spring break, ironically stating “they will have some freedom, which I think is really healthy for them.”
The board soon moved to a vote, unanimously voting to continue the forced masking until the next board meeting at a very minimum, which takes place over a month later on April 21st. Robert Griffin, a board member who during the meeting voiced his opposition to the continued force and desire to end the practice, appeared to switch his position by joining in the unanimous vote.