Rancho Santa Fe

Rancho Santa Fe School District Defies State Mandate, Makes Indoor Masks Optional

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In defiance of a state mandate requiring students to wear face masks indoors, the Rancho Santa Fe School District has adopted a “mask choice” policy, effective immediately.

A letter to parents from Superintendent Donna S. Tripi said that the district’s governing board held a special meeting Monday night to discuss masking requirements in school.

“During the meeting, the board took action to approve mask choice for students effective tomorrow, Feb. 22,” reads the letter, in part.

“There comes a time where you go, it doesn’t make sense anymore,” Rancho Santa Fe School Board President Jee Manghani told NBC 7 on Tuesday.

According to Manghani, the vote was 3-2.

One of the dissenting votes came from board member John Tree, who said he approves of mask choice. He told NBC 7 he voted no because he felt the decision should have been delayed.

The strongest dissenting vote came from board member Kali Kim, who called the vote "reactionary" in a statement sent to NBC 7

“I am not for masking but for minimizing the likelihood of having disruptions in the classroom as a result of this school being out of compliance with state mandates for an eventual decision that will be made in a week. The noncompliance will divert time and resources which could be used elsewhere and not increase the structure of learning at the school. Now that the reactionary decision has been made last night, I want the district to show the same thoughtful leadership we did when we were among the first to reopen and address all the safety protocol questions that come with taking local control."

The state plans to reassess COVID data next Monday, but there are no guarantees the school mask mandate will be changed.

“ 'Reassess' means 'we don’t know what we’re going to do'," Manghani said. "We can string it along another two or three weeks. It’s been two years. That’s a long time."

Rancho Santa Fe is the first local district to defy the mask mandate. It remains to be seen, at what cost.

The state public health officer has warned of serious financial and legal repercussions for district’s defying student indoor-mask requirements.

Though concerned, the Rancho Santa Fe board president said the small district of just two schools and 600-students receives minimal state funding. He said the district is not funded by attendance or enrollment.

The decision by Rancho Santa Fe comes as many local districts have demanded more local control of mask requirements. At least one parent in Rancho Santa Fe said she’ll continue to have her child take a mask to school.

Other parents, though, approved of the decision and downplayed any impact it could have.

“If the science works, and the vaccine works, and masks work, then you’ll be fine sending your child to school in their masks, vaccinated, because my child can’t hurt them,” Stacy Harris said.

Harris’ 11-year-old daughter was one of the students who did not wear a mask indoors on Tuesday.

“I got to see my teacher’s face for the first time. and I got to see a lot of other people’s faces — everyone in my class, pretty much,” Sloan Harris said.

According to Manghani, about one-third of students in the district did not wear a mask to school on Tuesday.

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