As Coronado Unified School District [CUSD] gears up for the first day of school on Aug. 26, the district mask wearing policy continues to be debated among community members, parents, school staff, and the Governing Board. These community conversations are taking place across the state as groups push back against Governor Newsom’s one-size-fits-all policies regarding COVID protocols.

“We are a public institution so our mask policy will be whatever state and county health officials tell us it is. Right now that is that everyone indoors must be masked regardless of vaccination status,” said Superintendent Mueller. 

CUSD was invited to join a lawsuit filed this week by the Orange County Board of Education which challenges Governor Newsom’s emergency rule-making powers and returns decision-making authority to local communities. The CUSD Board held a Special Meeting on Saturday, Aug. 7, to discuss the matter in closed session. The Board ultimately decided against the course of action (Trustees Keszei and Valdes-Clayton voted in favor of the motion to join the lawsuit; Pontes, Anderson-Cruz and Antrim opposed).

Board President Pontes released a statement after the meeting stating in part, “I was hoping to hear a path to gaining local control when it comes to masking or not masking students in our schools. Although the petition included that, I felt it also came with other issues that made it too broad in scope.”

Although the district will not join the lawsuit, the mask debate continues at the local level. A group of Coronado parents have joined forces with a grassroots effort based in Carlsbad called Let Them Breathe, a rapidly growing advocacy group of over 12,000 parents concerned about the detrimental effects of masks on the mental, physical, emotional, and social health of children. The stated goal on their website is ‘to promote mask choice and end mask mandates for youth (and everyone!).’

“I believe that decisions that affect the physical health of our children should not be forced on us. Our group [Let Them Breathe] is for choice. If someone believes it’s what is best for their child, they should be able to wear a mask. For me personally, with my child, and for many of us, it is a health issue,” said CUSD parent Gerri Machin. 

Machin and other parents decided to organize a ‘Let Them Breathe’ rally in Coronado before the Aug. 19 Governing Board meeting. The rally will begin at 3 p.m. outside the District Office at 201 Sixth Street and the meeting begins at 4 p.m. Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey is listed as a special guest. The event organizers are encouraging participants to speak to the Board after the rally.

Hundreds of people attended a Let Them Breathe rally held at the San Diego County Administration Building in late July and there are currently 57 similar rallies planned at school district’s across the state from Aug. 9-Sept. 14. 

The organization is also active in opposing mask mandates through legal means. They filed a joint lawsuit with another parent group, Reopen California Schools, in June 2021 regarding facial coverings, asymptomatic testing and close quarantine guidance in K-12 schools. The lawsuit cites numerous studies supporting the claim that masks are harmful to children both physically and mentally,

The ever-changing mandates and conflicting recommendations from the state leave public school administrators in the middle as frustrated parents and teachers, who often have strong and opposing positions on COVID protocols, seek either more or less restrictive rules. 

Superintendent Mueller expressed concern that refusing to adhere to health department regulations “may compromise state funding, district insurance coverage and our ability to have all students return to campus safely. Our primary goal is to get students on campus in person, five days a week.”

Throughout the pandemic the Governor has caused confusion by his lack of clarity; leaving some decisions up to local districts while at the same time issuing vague guidelines with threats of fines and penalties. 

According to Newsom spokesperson Alex Stack, enforcement and whether or not a district would be penalized, is the responsibility of county health departments, not the state. 

According to the San Diego County Public Health website, the course of action if a district does not adhere to the mask policy is, “the County will bring it to the state’s attention and talk with the district in an attempt to gain compliance. The State/CDPH will ultimately be the lead for any compliance enforcement measures.”

With two weeks left before the first day of school, federal, state and county health department recommendations could still change. “State and CPD directives have been issued, challenged, and changed a number of times already this summer. We anticipate it may happen again,” said Superintendent Mueller.

The two private schools in Coronado have adopted similar guidelines to CUSD. Christ Church Day School will require students and staff to wear masks while inside; they will not be permitted to eat while indoors when others are around; and masks may be removed during meal times, recess, and physical education class. Sacred Heart Parish School will require students and staff to wear masks indoors, but not outside while on campus.

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