Schools Say They’re Caught ‘Between A Rock And A Hard Place’ As Anti-Mask Protests Grow

As students’ and parents’ frustration on masks grows louder, schools take the heat for enforcing state’s mask mandate

Some San Diego County school district leaders are pleading for help as they bear the brunt of families’ discontent over the state’s indoor school mask mandate, which at this point has no expiration date.

Scores of San Diego County students, many who are not yet teenagers, are protesting the mandate by refusing to wear masks in class. The protests have garnered more attention in the past few days, ever since state officials announced at a press conference last Monday that they are not lifting the state’s indoor school mask mandate yet.

State leaders say they will reassess state COVID data on Feb. 28 but have suggested they won’t lift the school mask mandate until sometime after that date.

Families who don’t agree with masks have run out of patience with the school mandate as they watched California officials lift its mask mandate for virtually all other sectors of public life last week and as a growing number of states have lifted their school mask mandates.

Several of the student protests are happening in North County, where the parent-led, anti-mask Let Them Breathe movement began and where superintendents have complained about the state throwing down blanket COVID mandates on schools.

“I’m just really sick of all the masks,” Addy Spangler, 12, who refused to wear a mask at her school, Aviara Oaks Middle School in Carlsbad Unified, said on Sunday. “If (Gov. Gavin) Newsom doesn’t have to wear a mask, I don’t see why we have to.”

To follow the state’s mask mandate, schools are excluding students who refuse to wear masks from classrooms and having them wait in an outdoor location on campus until their parents pick them up. The practice has prompted complaints from parents who say their children are being denied instruction after exercising their right to free speech.

“I don’t want my child segregated,” said parent Wendy Griffin, on Sunday. Her 9-year-old daughter Emily refused to wear a mask at Kelly Elementary in Carlsbad Unified. “I don’t think that that’s right. It’s bizarre to me that we’re living in a land of segregation.”

But according to some local school leaders, the families’ anger is misplaced, because schools are required to enforce the mask mandate on the state’s behalf, even though several school leaders are unhappy with how the state has been handling COVID school mandates.

The superintendents of several local districts, including Poway Unified, Carlsbad Unified, San Marcos Unified and Alpine Union, said they are disappointed the state has not yet released a timeline for easing the school mask mandate. Districts in other parts of the county, notably San Diego Unified and South County school districts, have been much more likely to embrace COVID safety measures such as masking and vaccine mandates.

In a letter to state leaders on Friday, Poway Unified Superintendent Marian Kim-Phelps shared frustration that state officials have placed the burden of mask enforcement on educators. She said educators are exhausted after two years of surviving distance learning, keeping up with COVID safety measures, following the state’s frequently changing school COVID rules and enduring anger and harassment from parents about masks, school closures and other COVID measures.

“Our already-taxed teachers and administrators should not and cannot be the mask police. Students should not and cannot be excluded from their education,” Kim-Phelps wrote. “The angst and conflict over masks have become an extreme distraction at our schools.”

Superintendent Ben Churchill of Carlsbad Unified said in an email on Sunday that there’s a misconception that school districts have the ability to defy the state’s mask mandate, and school staff have been put in “a very difficult position” because they face significant risks if they don’t enforce it.

“Our teachers, principals and staff are between a rock and a hard place. They just want to teach … They don’t want to fight battles about statewide mandates,” Churchill said. “But … they’re the ones asked to enforce the rules and they are far more accessible than any of the statewide decision-makers.”

Click here to read the full article at the SD Union Tribune

State Health Officials Announce Rollout Vaccination Plan For Children Aged 5-11

California state Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan announced on Wednesday that vaccinations will open up to 3.5 million children ages 5-11 in the state by the end of the week once final national approval for pediatric COVID-19 vaccinations are given.

Earlier this month, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a vaccine mandate for all school aged children in grades K-12 to attend class. While the vaccine had been given a minimum age of 12 to administer, Newsom’s order  noted that  younger children would be included once the approval was given for them.

On Tuesday, FDA vaccine advisors began to recommend approval for kids aged 5-11. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted that the vaccine for that age group had an efficacy rate of around 91% in preventing COVID-19 in children, with no side effects shown in clinical trials. Mixed with a growing number of pediatric cases and herd immunity not yet being achieved, including 66 child deaths because of CVID-19 since the beginning of the year, full FDA approval is likely soon.

With Pfizer now shipping out child vaccines in preparation, Dr. Pan said on Wednesday that California is preparing for approval and will have 1.2 million doses ready to distribute in the first week. 4,000 sites and over 1,000 providers will also be assisting in the next wave of vaccinations.

“We have around 4,000 sites that are ready to administer and over 1,000 providers across the state enrolled to vaccinate,” Pan said. “And more than 860,000 doses of vaccine have already been ordered. This is our opportunity to protect another 9% of our population. This is another important turning point in our fight against COVID-19 and gets us closer to achieving full family protection against the virus.

“The more vaccinations we get into the arms of eligible Californians, the more we stop the spread and shrink the pool of people vulnerable to COVID-19. This will get us closer to ending the pandemic. Our youngest children have remained vulnerable to the highly contagious virus as older Californians have received their vaccine. Now the time is coming to protect them. There have been more than 35 pediatric deaths from COVID-19 in California alone, and this is more deaths than we see with flu in a very bad flu season. There simply is not an acceptable number of child deaths when such an effective and safe prevention are available.”

Vaccines expected to become available for ages 5-11 next week

However, despite the prepared network, as well as efforts to add more school locations to administer the vaccine, vaccinations will not be available overnight. In addition to federal finalization, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup will need to complete a review of the vaccine for approval in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state. While no date has been given as a “start” date, it will likely come some time next week, with a full two dose inoculation goal by Christmas, due to the three week second dose period.

CHHS Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly (Photo: Zoom)

“We enter into these next many weeks confident in the state of play with vaccines and their ultimate protection of so many, but cautious and vigilant with our guard up,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly at the Wednesday briefing. “COVID does cause severe disease in young kids. Any avoidable preventable impact — whether it’s death or severe disease and long-term chronic conditions for young people — if we have a safe effective measure to avoid it, it’s one that we want to emphasize and make available.”

However, the addition of a younger age group is widely expected to spur even more student pullouts and homeschooling efforts by parents who don’t want their child to receive the vaccine, with the highest numbers expected to come from districts that don’t offer many exemptions.

“Younger kids not getting the vaccine have been a ‘saving grace’ to parents who have been really uneasy about pulling their students out of school,” explained Alyssa Hutchinson, an Orange County homeschool transfer advisor who helps parents move to homeschooling options online, to the Globe on Wednesday. “It’s about to become a reality and I’m expecting a large wave of parents asking for help very soon. It usually takes a day for most parents to react for news, so it will be a very busy day for me tomorrow. I’m already seeing an uptick in e-mails right now and I’m afraid to look at my work phone’s unread text amount.

“You also need to realize that these are some of their youngest children the mandate will now be covering. Parents will not respond well.”

Vaccines are expected to begin being administered next week for children aged 5-11.

This article was originally published by the California Globe

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