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Masks Are Not Optional For San Diego Schools

Masked parents direct their children on the first day of school at Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School in Chula Vista, Calif., July 21, 2021.
AP Photo / Denis Poroy
Masked parents direct their children on the first day of school at Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School in Chula Vista, Calif., July 21, 2021.

San Diego County’s Office of Education is making it clear that masks are not optional for schools. They are required inside classrooms.

“School districts don’t have the choice to not enforce,” said Bob Mueller, the Assistant Incident Commander for COVID-19 Response for San Diego County Office of Education. He enforces the California Department of Public Health’s guidelines. “They are clearly required to enforce.”

Masks Are Not Optional For San Diego Schools
Listen to this story by Melissa Mae.

Earlier this month, the Alpine Union School District voted to make masks optional. Mueller says districts don’t have that choice.

“The guidance is really clear. Masks are required indoors for all students, except people with medical exemptions and adults have to wear them in indoor settings as well,” Mueller said.

RELATED: San Diego County Recommends Masks Indoors Regardless Of Vaccination Status

A school district does have control over how to bring a student into compliance with masks. They have the option to educate children in an outdoor space or through virtual learning if the student refuses to wear a mask.

Mueller says with the elimination of physical distancing, universal mask use indoors becomes even more important.

East Village High School teacher Matthew Schneck also emphasized the importance of masks. “Facial masks are basically what has kept us safe throughout this pandemic when we returned to in person instruction back in April,” Schneck said.

Schneck told KPBS staff and educators at East Village High School were united when it came to mask wearing. “There was no pushback from educators about wearing masks at all,” Schneck said.

Schneck said the benefits of wearing masks outweighs the hindrances in school.

“One of the reasons why I want to have our children wear masks in schools is so that they can stay in school,” Schneck said. “Absences, we know that even during regular times, absences affect student’s academic performance.”

San Diego County Says Schools Must Enforce Mask Mandate

Schneck does not like the idea of no mask enforcement.

“I would be terrified if kids were just allowed to decide I can wear a mask if I want to, if I don’t want to,” Schneck also said, “I would not want to be teaching students that were unmasked. That would scare me.”

The mask requirement is being challenged by some parent groups: Let Them Breathe and Reopen California Schools, who are suing the state over it. That suit is still pending.