The Coast News Group
Lou Uridel, shown here during a protest against COVID-19 lockdowns last year, spoke at the Oceanside Unified School District board meeting in favor of optional mask-wearing for students at schools. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
Louis Uridel, owner of Metroflex Gym shown here during a protest against COVID-19 lockdowns last year, spoke at the Oceanside Unified School District board meeting in opposition to mandatory mask requirements for students at district schools. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram

Parents group, residents bring mask debate to Oceanside school board meeting

OCEANSIDE — Residents and members of Let Them Breathe, a group started by Carlsbad parent Sharon McKeeman that is challenging the state’s mask mandates in schools, have been showing up to school board meetings throughout North County to publicly plea their case for the removal of mandatory mask requirements in schools.

McKeeman, who does not have any children enrolled in Oceanside schools, spoke at the Oceanside Unified School District’s Aug. 10 board meeting, in part to remind the board about a previous request to put the group’s “mask choice resolution” on its agenda.

“(The resolution) simply outlines that there is no good scientific basis for masking children,” McKeeman said. “This resolution also outlines the harms of masking children.”

In July, McKeeman told the school board that while her group is working on fighting the state’s mask mandates, the school board has a responsibility to students and parents in the meantime “to do what is right.”

“These parents are begging you to do what is right for our children because we know that if we don’t free their smiles and allow their faces to be uncovered, there may not be smiles left,” McKeeman said, tearing up.

McKeeman then brought up eight children who then spoke about why they dislike masks. It was unclear whether or not the children were district students.

Sharon McKeeman, founder of the Let Them Breathe movement, urged the Oceanside Unified School Board to consider a resolution making masks optional for students. Screenshot
Sharon McKeeman, founder of Let Them Breathe, urged the Oceanside Unified School District board on Aug. 10 to consider a resolution making masks optional for students. Screenshot

Louis Uridel, the owner of Metroflex Gym in Oceanside who was previously arrested, fined and briefly jailed in May 2020 for reopening his gym in violation of the county’s COVID-19 health order, also spoke at the meeting regarding the lack of a mask choice agenda item.

“Having children wear these masks for eight hours a day is not going to be healthy for them,” Uridel said.

Like McKeeman, Uridel also currently doesn’t have any children in the school district but has a child on the way.

“If I was going to have my daughter in a school that had to wear masks, I would never, ever, ever allow her to be in that school,” he told the school board. “I would take her and put her in a private academy.”

Uridel noted many parents felt the same way and suggested that the district could see a large number of students leaving the district due to the mask mandate.

“I would hate to see lots of children being pulled out of the schools,” Uridel said.

In addition to McKeeman and Uridel, a few members of the public spoke out about the lack of a “mask choice resolution” item on the board’s agenda for that night.

Kara Smith, a parent with two children in the district, was disappointed to see that a resolution on masks being optional for students and parents was not included on the agenda. She told the board that she and other parents had previously requested such an item to be included that night.

“There’s a lot of people who feel very strongly about this,” Smith said.

As of Aug. 2, the California Department of Public Health updated its guidelines to require K-12 students to wear masks while indoors regardless of vaccination status. Masks are still optional for everyone in outdoor K-12 school settings.

These requirements were made based on updates on universal indoor masking recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC is currently recommending that all students, staff, teachers and school visitors wear masks regardless of vaccination status due to the growing circulation of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

The school district has no plans to put the mask choice resolution on a future board meeting agenda and will continue to follow state guidelines as mandated.
“The state has not given school districts or schools the discretion to make face coverings optional, or to create their own standard for enforcement,” said OUSD Communications Director Donald Bendz. “We are required to enforce this mandate, as we would with any law, regulation, or policy.”
Oceanside Unified students return to school on Monday, Aug. 17.