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By Collin Breaux

In an effort to get the California Department of Public Health’s attention, the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees approved a symbolic resolution Wednesday, June 23, urging a change in mask guidance for people on school campuses—effectively requesting masks be optional, particularly for students.

Students, teachers, and school staff have been required to wear masks while indoors on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether they are required to do so is set by CDPH guidelines, and the school district has no jurisdiction on the matter.

Mask requirements have become a contentious topic with parents and trustees, with some speaking out against masks and others urging the district to continue following public health guidelines.

The proposal urging a change to CDPH was brought forth by Trustee Lisa Davis. The resolution was originally on a previous meeting agenda, but other trustees suggested revisions to the item’s language before bringing it back for approval.

“Masking students in school for a disease that has minimal risk for them blatantly disregards the available clinical data,” Davis said. “Teachers, staff, and administrators can be fully vaccinated by the fall.”

The board voted, 5-2, in favor of the resolution. Davis, Martha McNicholas, Pamela Braunstein, Judy Bullockus, and Gila Jones voted yes. Amy Hanacek and Krista Castellanos voted no.

Though mask requirements for fully vaccinated individuals and other pandemic restrictions have been lifted in California, there has been no change to the current guideline of requiring masks in K-12 schools.

Castellanos said while she knows about the challenges of masks and is eager to say goodbye to masks since she regularly teaches in them, safety guidelines are in place for a reason.

“It would be difficult for me to sign my name to this resolution demanding CDPH to expedite their research to accommodate the needs or demands of some parents,” Castellanos said. “At the end of the day, I’m not an expert in public health, and it’s vital that these decisions are made by our health care professionals.”

Bullockus said the CDPH is not comprised of educators and doesn’t realize what goes into planning for a school district, in terms of what goes into students returning to school and what that looks like.

“We are trying to urge the CDPH to get off the stick and make a decision, sooner rather than later,” Bullockus said. “If they’ve got some kind of major research that they’re waiting for results to come in, in the next two weeks or the weeks ahead, let us know—but we’re not hearing that.”

Gregory Merwin, the CUSD’s chief academic officer for education and support services, said the district anticipates updated health guidelines for K-12 schools.

“We are waiting and watching every single day so that we will be prepared,” Merwin said.

The Wednesday meeting marked the first one since the pandemic that did not fully implement mask and social distancing requirements.

Fully vaccinated people did not have to wear masks inside the board room, while unvaccinated people were required to continue wearing masks.

Most of the people in the room were without masks, though a handful wore masks.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com.                         

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