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By Collin Breaux

The Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees will discuss, and possibly vote on, a symbolic resolution requesting mask requirements for students and school staff on campuses be made optional during an upcoming special meeting on June 23.

The resolution was placed on the June 16 regular meeting agenda by Trustee Lisa Davis, but other trustees suggested revisions from the dais. Student mask requirements have become a contentious topic with parents, and whether children have to wear masks indoors on campus is set by California Department of Public Health guidelines.

If approved, the proposal will be sent to state and local officials.

“The overwhelming majority of the feedback I’ve received has been to make masks optional for students this fall,” said Davis, who was newly elected to the board in November. “Because we must adhere to state health standards, we are unable to create our own policy on this issue, but we hope to persuade CDPH to change their guidance based on the mountains of evidence now available that (needing) masks to ease the spread of COVID is no longer necessary.”

Though mask requirements for fully vaccinated people and other pandemic restrictions have largely been lifted in California following record low infection rates and increasing numbers of vaccinations, masks are still currently required in K-12 schools. Masks and social distancing were also required for people attending the board meeting in person.

Community members who spoke during the meeting had varied reactions to the resolution. Some, such as Dr. Susan Saucedo, opposed the request to make masks optional.

“Science, expertise, and facts matter. This resolution, if passed, will compromise the credibility of this district,” Saucedo said. “CUSD is proposing to remove a public health recommendation. Will CUSD also spend time making future anti-public health resolutions to the CDC and WHO?”

Others, such as parent Clayton Riness, supported removing mask mandates.

“We have 15 months of data. We know kids are not at risk,” Riness said. “The kids don’t want them. The parents don’t want them.”

Revisions to the resolution suggested by Trustee Martha McNicholas included taking out language that refers to any sort of studies, adding in language that CDPH should provide timely guidelines, and emphasizing the request about mask requirements was being made on behalf of concerned parents. McNicholas also encouraged parents to contact CDPH.

Trustee Amy Hanacek said she did not want to “slapdash” a request to CDPH and that information in the resolution should be factual.

“This is not my wheelhouse. I am not a doctor,” Hanacek said. “For me, this is probably an exercise in futility. We need to do the right thing, stay focused, get the information we have from CDPH. I appreciate Trustee Davis wanting to advocate, but when we talk about efficacy, there’s no teeth to this. They’re not going to respond.”

Trustees voted, 6-1, to bring back the revised item at the June 23 meeting. Trustees Gila Jones, Pamela Braunstein, Krista Castellanos, Judy Bullockus, McNicholas, and Hanacek voted yes. Davis voted no and wanted the resolution to be worked through at the June 16 meeting.

“This is my first time writing a resolution,” Davis said. “I’ve been on the board for five months.”

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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