RANCHO SANTA FE — The Rancho Santa Fe School District board voted Monday to make masks optional for students despite the state’s indoor mask mandate for schools.
The district is the first in San Diego County to contradict the state-level mask mandates in this way and could set a precedent for other local districts moving forward.
The board held a special meeting on Monday and voted 3-2 to make masks optional for students starting Tuesday, Feb. 22.
The district recently sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom and state public health officials on Feb. 11 urging them to allow the district to take back local control over decisions regarding student mask mandates. They asked for a response by Feb. 18 before they would be taking matters into their own hands.
After not hearing back, the board moved forward with optional masking.
John Tree and Kali Kim were the two board members who voted “no” on Monday, saying they also support making masks optional, but they wanted to give district leaders a week to make a transition plan.
The state previously announced that it will keep the indoor school mask requirement until at least Monday, Feb. 28, when it will reassess COVID data and consider modifying or lifting the mandate. There are no guarantees that the state will lift the school mask mandate.
The Rancho Santa Fe School District serves roughly 600 students in two elementary schools.
The decision by the district comes as many local districts have demanded more local control of mask requirements.
The San Marcos Unified School District board on Thursday sent a letter to Gov. Newsom requesting a clear and decisive timeline on when exactly the school mask mandates will be lifted, emphasizing their concern of “whether the harms of prolonged mask-wearing have now outweighed the benefits.”
Some San Diego County school board members have even formed a coalition calling on the state to end the school masking requirement.
The coalition includes 21 board members from 12 of the county’s 42 school districts, mostly in North and East counties: Alpine, Cajon Valley, Coronado, Escondido Elementary, Escondido High, Julian High, Lakeside, La Mesa-Spring Valley, Poway, Ramona, Rancho Santa Fe and Santee.
It is unclear what the consequences of the Rancho Santa Fe School District’s actions will be, though state officials have previously said that schools are not allowed to lift mask requirements ahead of the state making that decision.
Guidelines from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) say that schools face substantial legal and financial risks if they do not follow state-mandated mask requirements.