CARLSBAD — As the 2020-21 school year comes to a close, many parents are gearing up for a fight heading into next year.
Several hundred parents and their kids took to the streets of Carlsbad on June 5 calling for the state to end mask mandates in schools. Organized and founded by Sharon McKeeman, the Let Them Breathe group is preparing to challenge the state over its guidelines regarding the COVID-19 virus and its transmission among students.
During the rally, McKeeman urged those in attendance to keep up the pressure on the state regarding mask choice in school. She said the state has not “followed” the science or data when it comes to in-person learning and masks in schools.
The state has not released its guidelines for next year, McKeeman said, although the group has sent a demand letter to the California Department of Public Health.
“We’re just advocating for mask choice,” she said. “If a kid wants to wear a mask, that’s fine. But if they don’t want to wear a mask … they should have that choice.”
Carlsbad attorney Scott Davison, meanwhile, was at the forefront of a lawsuit in February with the Parent Association of North County against the state. The association won the suit, which allowed for schools to reopen statewide for secondary students to return to campus.
Davison said the state barely put up a fight, also noting the guidelines and data used to develop the mandates were not grounded in fact. A number of school districts in North County applied for a state waiver to return to in-person and received approval from the County of San Diego.
However, when their applications went before the California health department, the state changed the rules on the fly, Davison said in March, and found the districts were not in compliance.
The group sued in February and was granted an injunction by the court.
Davison said he expects another legal battle for the 2021-22 school year. He, along with McKeeman, urged those in attendance to donate to the legal fund.
“We’ve been fighting all year to get our kids back in school, and we won that fight,” Davison said. “Kids aren’t spreading COVID at school, kids are coming to school with COVID very rarely and schools are the safest place for them to be. And a judge agreed with us. We’re convinced the state is going to do the same thing this fall.”
Duncan Brown, president of the San Dieguito Faculty Association, said his union has not taken a “formal” position on masks. Since the state has yet to release the new guidelines, he said at this point it’s too early to commit to a position, although he said it is likely his school district, San Dieguito Union High School District, will likely follow whatever the state decides.
However, when it comes to safety, he said the union will work to protect students and staff, noting some classrooms with more than 30 students and windows that don’t open exist and pose challenges.
“The safety of our working unit and students is of paramount importance,” Brown said. “We will err on the side of caution.”
As for the rally, McKeeman led the speakers, who also included Davison, 76th Assembly candidate Melanie Burkholder and several others, including a teacher from Vista.
Additionally, McKeeman said the group organized a number of marches around the state, tapping into thousands of parents who support their mission. One march included parents walking on the state capitol in Sacramento, she said.
One of the group’s talking points has been the state’s reduction in COVID-19 cases, along with low transmission rates among children. According to the L.A. Times, the Centers for Disease Control reported the state’s seven-day case rate was at 11 per 100,000 on June 7 and positivity rates are less than 5%.
California is tied with Nebraska for the third-lowest states for transmission, behind just Vermont and South Dakota, according to the Times.
“Adults have the choice to be vaccinated or not,” McKeeman said. “Anyone who is high-risk has had that option to be vaccinated. Our kids aren’t at high risk for COVID, the science is clear about that. But we’re seeing their mental health is really in crisis.”