California schools don’t have to require masks after March 11

Malika Odom, Jeremiah Enriques, and Ryleigh Staton show their transitional kindergarten books at Valencia Park Elementary.
(Left to right) Malika Odom (5), Jeremiah Enriques (4), and Ryleigh Staton (5) show off their books in their transitional kindergarten classroom at Valencia Park Elementary on June 14, 2021 in San Diego.
(Jarrod Valliere/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Some San Diego County school districts are making masks optional immediately; others may continue to require masks


California schools and childcare facilities no longer have to require masks indoors after March 11, state officials announced Monday, Feb. 28, although masks are still “highly recommended.”

The announcement does not necessarily mean that all San Diego County students will be able to ditch masks immediately after that date, however.

San Diego Unified leaders, for example, have said they will not change their indoor mask requirement based on the state’s policy alone. The district will decide after consulting with a panel of UC San Diego experts about when it is safe to do so, considering local COVID data such as case rates, district officials said.

Other local school district leaders said Monday, Feb. 28, they will make masks optional for students as soon as they can.

Within an hour of the state’s announcement, Carlsbad Unified told families Monday, Feb. 28, that it will no longer require masks for students starting Monday, March 14.

La Mesa-Spring Valley Superintendent David Feliciano said masks will be optional for students as soon as the state mandate lifts.

Rancho Santa Fe already decided to make masks optional for students starting last week, in defiance of the state’s mandate.

Superintendents and school board members at several districts — including Alpine, Carlsbad, Del Mar, Poway and San Marcos — have publicly chided the state in recent weeks for taking this long to relax the school mask mandate. They have noted that some parents and students say masks have harmed kids’ social development and mental health.

Those students and parents are in the minority in California, according to a poll conducted this month by the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. About 65 percent of California voters and 61 percent of parents of school-age students support school mask mandates for students and staff, the poll found.

While mask opponents are the minority, they have put significant pressure on school and state leaders to stop requiring masks. Some students have refused to wear masks at school and, when school leaders have refused to admit or have removed mask-less children from classrooms, some of their parents have taken to social media to protest.

The state’s announcement Monday, Feb. 28, raised concerns from some that it is too soon to decide when to lift the school mask mandate.

San Diego County’s COVID transmission level is currently high, according to guidelines released Friday, Feb. 25, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC considers three factors: the number of new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, the percent of staffed, inpatient beds in hospitals occupied by COVID patients, and new COVID admissions per 100,00 people in the past seven days.

According to the CDC guidelines, masks should be required indoors, including at schools, because of the high case rates.

“One would think that case rates, not just dates on the calendar, would be driving this decision,” said Dr. Howard Taras, a UC San Diego pediatrician who consults with schools about COVID, in an email Monday morning, Feb. 28.

In an environment in which coronavirus transmission is falling rapidly and so many people have at least some degree of protection because they’ve been vaccinated, officials are increasingly saying that extra layer of protection — though still beneficial — doesn’t necessarily need to be compulsory.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement Monday, Feb. 28, that the state continues to base its COVID policies on the latest data and science.

“Masks are an effective tool to minimize spread of the virus and future variants, especially when transmission rates are high,” Newsom said. “We cannot predict the future of the virus, but we are better prepared for it and will continue to take measures rooted in science to keep California moving forward.”

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this story.