California announced new coronavirus rules for public schools on Monday that allow students and teachers to sit as close to each other as they want while making sure no one misses school hours even if they are exposed to someone infected with the virus.
But these changes from the last school year were overshadowed by news that the state would continue to require all students and staff to wear masks indoors, rekindling criticism from Governor Gavin Newsom as he faces a recall election in September.
The federal government said last week that teachers and students fully vaccinated against the coronavirus do not have to wear masks indoors. But this advice, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also recommended that students and staff stay at least 3 feet (0.9 meters) apart to reduce the spread of disease primarily. transmitted by air.
Elsewhere in the United States, schools and state officials have adopted a patchwork of rules for students and teachers. Some states, including Rhode Island, have removed mask warrants for schools. Others leave the decision to the districts. Illinois health officials say they are fully embracing the CDC guidelines.
In California, state officials said they fear enforcing social distancing will make it more difficult for some schools to accommodate all returning students. So, they made a choice: the state will not require physical distancing in exchange for wearing a mask for all.
“Masks best promote both safety and in-person learning by reducing the need for physical distancing,” say the new rules.
State officials have promised to review these rules, and possibly change them, by November 1.
Newsom has come under heavy criticism for failing to move faster to get students back to classrooms in the past school year. Many districts, including Los Angeles with more than 550,000 K-12 students, have only instituted part-time in-person instruction for the last few weeks of the semester. Since then, Newsom has advocated for students to return to full-time in-person teaching.
The new rules have angered parents who say the mask requirement will continue to stress children who have already seen two school years turned upside down by distance learning and missed milestones like proms, sports, games, etc. concerts and graduation ceremonies.
“It’s outrageous,” said Jonathan Zachreson, father of three students and founder of Reopen California Schools. “We continue to place the burden of this pandemic on our children, and it must stop. “
The mask requirement actually went public on Friday, and over the weekend Zacherson said his group received more than $ 15,000 in donations to fund a lawsuit against the state. Overall, Zachreson said the group has more than $ 65,000 to prepare for the lawsuit, which he says will be filed in the coming weeks.
“Newsom had one last chance to show he can put children first with these guidelines to reopen schools, and he messed it up,” added Zachreson, who said he voted for Newsom in 2018 but plans to vote to recall it in the September 14 elections. .
Dr Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician and professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, had said public schools should reconsider masking requirements once hospitalization rates drop below five for 100,000 people in a community and at least two-thirds of adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Although these thresholds have been met in parts of California, Gandhi called the state’s new rules “reasonable.” She said eliminating the physical distancing requirement “is one of the best things California can do” to get kids back into classrooms.
Hiding children, she said, “is probably one of the grayest areas we have” because there is so little data on children.
“In these gray areas there will always be controversy,” she said. “We just need to get the kids back and then we can sort out those kinds of things.”
Dr Jeffrey Klausner, clinical professor of population and public health sciences at the University of Southern California, said the rules “go too far” and are not based on local data.
“I think they would have better confidence and credibility with Californians if they were a little more nuanced and smarter about it,” he said. “I think it’s frustrating, in a state of 40 million people, just to say that everyone has to be the same.”
California’s new rules initially said that if students refused to wear a mask, schools should send them home. But in a tweet released Monday evening, the ministry said it would leave enforcement decisions to local school districts.
If students are exposed to someone at school who has the coronavirus – and everyone was wearing masks at the time – exposed students don’t have to miss class to self-quarantine, in these conditions: they have no symptoms, they continue to wear a mask indoors, they are tested at least twice a week for 10 days, and they do not participate in sports or other extracurricular activities for this period.
The state is also promoting physical distancing while students eat, asking schools to have students eat outside as much as possible.