The Ramona Unified School District reversed course on its mask policy Monday days after making coverings optional for students indoors and has aligned its policy with county and state requirements, for now.
Last Thursday, the district board voted 3-2 in favor of giving parents the option to opt their children out of wearing masks indoors. Masks are required for students and staff inside campus buildings by the California Department of Public Health based on CDC guidelines.
Following the district's decision on Thursday, board member Dawn Perfect, who voted in favor of optional masks, tweeted, "Let's see if we can make it stick." The board voted 3-2 again on Monday in favor of the reversal, but it doesn't appear to be the end goal.
Board members say they went backward to give district lawyers time to come up with an iron clad legal opt-out form for parents.
Nevertheless, the reversal led to an emotional debate at Monday's special board meeting, which saw some children among the audience wearing shirts that said "Un-mask the kids."
"I am disappointed but I also understand the decision," said a parent who supports a parents' choice policy.
Others in favor argued their rights were being threatened.
"You cannot allow these people to blackmail you. All this decision is is freedom of choice. I hope you all recognize what is truly at stake here -- our freedom," a student named Kali said.
Parents and students filled the meeting room that seats just 50, and about 100 more stood in the hallway and outside the district office. More than a third of attendees signed up to speak
On the other side, parents and teachers argued in the name of safety.
"But what scares me more than coming here to speak is not saying anything. I am scared for my children's well-being," parent Sandra Chandoo said.
Ramona Teachers Association president Cori McDonald argued the district's plan for parental choice could result in heavy fines from OSHA, and ignoring state health orders could also result in loss of liability insurance which could bankrupt the district.
"This decision not only puts our staff and student's safety into question but also puts our district at risk financially and puts the honus on our staff to enforce rules for some and not others," McDonald said.
The district did not provide a timeline for when it expects to go back to the parent choice policy.
The district is home to 11 schools. The school year starts on Aug. 19.
California students, and staff members in school settings, are required to wear masks while indoors at school regardless of vaccination status and have the option to wear them outside, according to the CDPH's rules, which the agency said were in line with guidance from the CDC.
Last Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced all school staffers will be required to provide proof of vaccination or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. Staff affected by the new requirement include teachers, para-educators, custodial staff and bus drivers.
The overwhelming majority of teachers in the state are already vaccinated, "but we need to get the other staff vaccinated as well," Newsom said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday threw its support behind mandatory masking indoors at school, in part because so much of the student population isn't yet eligible for vaccination.
Right now, the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines have Emergency USe Authorization from the FDA for adults and adolescents 12 and older.
The CDPH also said every California school will have access to free testing through the robust state testing program for schools.
In mid-July, the CDPH canceled its order for schools to send home students who refused to wear masks in class and left it up to individual districts to decide what to do. Some say that opened the door for districts that wished to ignore the mask mandate altogether.