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A young student wearing a mask gets hand sanitizer before entering school
Three North County school district superintendents are asking the state health department to allow vaccinated students a choice whether or not to wear a mask during in-person instruction. File photo
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School districts urge state to allow mask choice for vaccinated students

REGION — Three North County school districts are calling for vaccinated students to have the option to wear masks during the upcoming school year.

The Carlsbad Unified, Poway Unified and Vista Unified school districts sent a joint letter to the California Department of Public Health on July 14 urging the state health agency to permit the San Diego County public health officer to allow the three school districts to follow the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control.

They sent the letter to Dr. Mark Ghaly, of the California Health and Human Services Agency, and Dr. Naomi Bardach, of the CDPH, and who came under fire for her denial of the Carlsbad Unified School District’s reopening plans in March.

As a result, the Parents Association of North County filed a successful lawsuit, which resulted in schools reopening for in-person instruction.

According to the letter, signed by superintendents Ben Churchill (Carlsbad), Marian Phelps (Poway) and Matt Doyle (Vista), the CDC recommends schools collaborate with local public health officials to determine prevention strategies by monitoring community transmission and vaccine coverage.

“To that end, our districts have worked tirelessly over the past 17 months to implement a layered approach to virus transmission mitigation and prevention,” the joint statement reads. “We’ve established safe reopening plans that adhere to statutory and other requirements. We’ve been meticulous about contact tracing and precise about quarantining.”

The three superintendents said based on the county’s high levels of local vaccine coverage and low levels of transmission, the state health department should allow them to offer a choice for vaccinated students when it comes to wearing masks.

Additionally, each district spent millions upgrading air filtration and ventilation systems, deploying cleaning protocols and addressing physical distancing requirements.

Perhaps the biggest incentive is promoting the vaccine to encourage those students who have not done so. The superintendents said it will encourage greater vaccination rates, especially when the vaccine is available to those students under 12 years old.

The education administrators said California is one of the most restrictive states in the country and is just one of nine states requiring universal mask-wearing in schools.

“The health and safety of our students and staff is our top priority,” Carlsbad Unified School District Board of Trustees President Claudine Jones said. “It is likely that we’ll see greater adherence to a policy that aligns with the current CDC guidance. It also offers a strong incentive for those eligible for vaccines to get vaccinated before the start of school.”

However, the parent group Let Them Breathe said in a statement it agrees with the CDPH’s discrimination concerns by linking mask-wearing to vaccinations. The group said all students should be treated the same since students are low risk and it “strongly” disagrees with masking all students.

The group noted that students under the age of 12 are not eligible for the vaccine, preventing those children from choosing whether to wear a mask or not. Additionally, the group said many families will not vaccinate their children under the emergency use authorization and others won’t vaccinate them due to concerns of myocarditis (heart inflammation).

The group will hold rallies at all three district offices and is preparing a lawsuit against the state to end mask mandates for all K-12 students statewide.

“We strongly disagree with their stance of keeping all students masked,” the statement reads. “All students should be treated the same by being allowed to unmask since they are at low risk from COVID, and adults have been given the chance to get vaccinated. Especially our youngest students who are at least risk from COVID but are most damaged by the effects of masking on their mental, social, academic, and physical health and development.”