The San Diego Unified School District and Sweetwater Union High School District will hold onto their indoor mask mandates for students and staff past March 12, the day Governor Gavin Newsom said California districts can drop the requirement.
The districts' decisions on Monday were based on CDC data that ranks San Diego County's "community level" transmission as high. The CDC recommends masking indoors at school in communities under that rating.
On Tuesday, SDUSD board member Richard Barrera said the district is unlikely to consider lifting the indoor mask requirement before mid-April, pointing out that the district goes into spring break two weeks after the state mask “recommendation” goes into effect on March 14 and that, typically, case rates increase after vacation breaks. Barrera told NBC 7 that at that point, the district will want to make sure rates continue to decrease or, at the very least, remain stable.
"The patterns that we've seen consistently through the pandemic is that when students and staff come back from break, we see a little bit of an increase or, in some cases, a big increase in our case rates," Barrera said. "So we're probably going to want to see those rates stabilize after spring break for a week or two. We're probably looking at mid-April if everything is looking good at that point and we've seen stable, low rates of virus spread."
California also recommends masking in schools, but dropped the requirement Monday. Newsom left school districts a choice to exercise local control over mask mandates and, for now, these two districts are taking advantage of that option.
SDUSD said it will come up with thresholds to determine when it will drop its indoor mandate after the county's community level is downgraded from high.
"Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our District has looked to the guidance of federal, state, and local health agencies, as well as to the advice of trusted medical professionals in making science-based decisions for the policies we put in place to keep our students, our staff, and their families safe," a letter sent to SDUSD parents read in part.
Kisha Borden, president of the San Diego Education Association, said she and many teachers she represents are happy SDUSD is taking a science-based approach.
"While the community spread has gone down from the peak of omicron in January, we still see that San Diego's metrics are considered high, especially when looking at other cities in California," Borden said. "So we're hoping that the district will look to the guidance."
SUHSD said it will review its stance in two weeks' time.
"We reiterate that the safety of our school communities must be the guiding factor for any decisions affecting our students and staff and continue to encourage testing, masking, and vaccinations," Sweetwater UHSD said in part.
There have been 25 outbreaks -- three or more cases in the same setting -- at schools between TK and 12th grade in the last week. There were 24 the week prior, according to county data.
Monday afternoon, San Diego County Board of Supervisor Chair Nathan Fletcher called Newsom's move a "safe and responsible step in the right direction."
"We’ve had one of the lowest school closure rates in the nation, but due to availability of the vaccine and therapeutic treatments, it is now time to resume our lives without COVID dominating daily action," Fletcher said in a statement.
Poway Unified School District said it will drop its indoor mask requirement starting Monday, March 14.
The Rancho Santa Fe School District was one of the first in the county to defy the state requirement and make masks optional indoors.