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San Dieguito district will move toward mask choice

Pacific Trails Middle School Principal Mary Anne Nuskin helps a student on the first day of school in fall 2021.
Pacific Trails Middle School Principal Mary Anne Nuskin helps a student on the first day of school.
(Miquel Jacobs)

Trustee’s resolution to change how mandate is enforced fails to pass

With the announcement that the state will no longer require masks in schools after March 11, the San Dieguito Union High School District board anticipates mask choice will begin on Monday, March 14. Some board members, however, wanted to give students the opportunity to unmask earlier than that.

At a special board meeting on Feb. 28, San Dieguito board Vice President Michael Allman brought forward a resolution that would restore local control in the enforcement of the state’s student mask mandate. With just 12 more days until the masks could be lifted, and nine more days of school, a motion to pass the resolution failed 2-2 with Allman and President Mo Muir in support and Clerk Melisse Mossy and Trustee Katrina Young opposed. Trustee Julie Bronstein was absent.

Mossy said she would not recommend that the board break any laws.

“I do support this change wholeheartedly, I believe in personal choice,” Mossy said of the movement toward giving students and parents a choice. “But I will follow the guidelines put out by the state.

“I just believe in our students that they’re going to stick with us for nine days.” Mossy continued. “We want personal choice to take place but in a way that follows the rules we’re under.”

Allman’s resolution stated that the current student mask mandate is “ill-advised, arbitrary and capricious, and interferes with the board’s local control, including its ability to provide in-person education for its students.” Allman said the resolution was not about going against the state mandate but going against how it is enforced.

Per his resolution, the district would provide N95 or KN95 masks to students on a daily basis and promote the availability and efficacy of masking. If a student is unmasked, they would be offered a mask and reminded of the state requirement to wear a mask but after that the class would continue in its normal fashion no matter how many students decided to wear or not wear a mask. No student would be asked to leave a classroom and no student would be kicked off campus.

The resolution also stated that no student would suffer any direct academic consequences for failing to abide by any masking requirements and that no individual should be “shamed, ostracized, stigmatized, judged, ridiculed, bullied, or treated negatively in any way” based on their personal decision to wear or not wear a mask during any class or other school event.

“Why is it only the children in schools that need to be masked?” Allman asked. “Why are we putting all this burden on the children? Enough is enough already.”

Allman said all that would be learned in the next two weeks was that COVID-19 cases will continue to come down: “This is political theater. There is no reason we cannot unmask our kids tomorrow.”

Muir agreed and said that kids have been dealing with this mask issue for two years and it’s the worst thing that’s happened to some of them.

“I don’t understand the governor’s delay, he doesn’t anticipate any new information,” Muir said. “I personally don’t want our kids to wait two weeks, two days or even two minutes.”

Young said she felt Allman’s resolution misstated facts and only presented one side of the issue and she recommended a simple resolution that affirmed the district would continue to follow state mandates and move toward mask choice.

“I know there’s lots of students who cannot wait to not wear masks...but there’s also some students who are comforted by the mask and I just want to make sure we have that proper support,” Young said. “One of the advantages to this 10-day period is that it allows the students who are going to be anxious and fearful to get adjusted to this, which should be celebrated. We should all be excited to be at a point when we don’t need masks.”

During public comment, parents spoke out both opposed and in support of Allman’s resolution, some calling for immediate mask choice to give kids back a sense of normalcy after two years of suffering learning loss and social and emotional challenges. Others believed that San Dieguito should just wait two weeks rather than put the district at financial or legal risk.

When asked for her opinion, Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward said she and her administrative team have been “put between a rock and a hard place” and reaffirmed that they must follow state laws. She said her hope is that schools continue to run well over the next nine days.

Per the current board policy, student violations of the mask guidelines are handled through a restorative approach, including speaking to administration and an offer of independent study, outside of the classroom where masks are not required.

Young said she hasn’t been told that there are enforcement issues on any campus and the board might be needlessly worrying about this issue. Mossy said she trusts that teachers and site administration will be able to work with students who are having trouble with the masks for the next 9 days: “I believe our students want to follow the rules and understand the constraints we’re under.”

Mossy made an effort to find a compromise by passing a resolution that incorporated some of Young and Allman’s points but it also failed 2-2. With other items on the agenda and consensus unlikely, the board moved on to the next topic.

On Feb. 28, the San Diego Unified School District said they plan to keep their mask mandate while San Diego County’s community level of transmissions remained high. Locally, the Rancho Santa Fe School District has gone against the state mandate and has offered mask choice to students since Feb. 22, shortly after the indoor mask mandate was lifted for the state.


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