California school district makes masks optional for students, breaks with Newsom statewide mandate

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A California school district voted to make masks optional for students inside the classroom, breaking with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide indoor school mask mandate, with a school board official telling Fox News that parents should “have the right to decide what is best for their children.”

The school board for the Rancho Santa Fe School District, which enrolls about 500 elementary school students, voted 3-2 during a meeting this week to make mask-wearing optional — giving parents the chance to decide whether their children should wear face coverings when at school.

“It is important that we listen to the parents in our community — that is why we are elected to the board — to be their voice,” Board Vice President Annette Ross told Fox News. “They have stood before our board in tears asking us to offer a mask option.”

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Ross, who voted in favor of making masks optional in schools, told Fox News that the school board is feeling “an outpouring of support.”

“Our decision was met with a standing ovation,” she said.

Kindergarteners wear masks while listening to their teacher amid the COVID-19 pandemic at Washington Elementary School on Jan. 12, 2022, in Lynwood, California.

Kindergarteners wear masks while listening to their teacher amid the COVID-19 pandemic at Washington Elementary School on Jan. 12, 2022, in Lynwood, California.
(Associated Press)

Ross, a mother of five and an author, told Fox News that two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the “conversation is not about the dangers of COVID, but the problems created by masking.”

“We know that the need for speech therapy has skyrocketed all over the county,” Ross explained. “Children, younger children especially, have suffered from not seeing the faces of their teachers, and often, they are unable to pick up social cues.” 

Ross added that “test scores are down all over the state,” and said children “are stunted emotionally, and many are in fear.”

“Parents say they cry before going to school,” Ross said. “We have created a population of children with anxiety, and we have missed the smiles of our students for two years.” 

Parents should decide

Ross told Fox News that she feels parents “should have the right to decide what is best for their children.”

“Parents are their strongest advocates,” she said. “From the time a child is born, every health decision for that child is made by the parent or guardian. They can best choose how to protect them. What is troublesome is how much of that was compromised and put into question during the pandemic.”

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Ross, though, told Fox News that she “absolutely” believed masks were an “important part of protection when the pandemic began.”

“None of us, not even health officials who said differently, really understood what we were up against,” Ross said. “But we have far surpassed that time.”

Masked students wait to go to their classroom during the first day of class at Stanford Elementary School in Garden Grove, California, Aug. 16, 2021. Students and teacher were required to wear masks in the classroom but not outside. 

Masked students wait to go to their classroom during the first day of class at Stanford Elementary School in Garden Grove, California, Aug. 16, 2021. Students and teacher were required to wear masks in the classroom but not outside. 
(Getty Images)

Ross, in a swipe at Newsom, said the governor “does not even mask at large sporting events.”

“The Super Bowl was full of faces with no mask coverings. The mask mandate was lifted for everyone, but students? Why are they the ones who are punished?” Ross said. “This is nonsensical.”

She added: “It has nothing to do with science, but is politically motivated, and that is unacceptable.”

Ross told Fox News that it is “important to follow the law,” but as “thinking individuals, we also have to discern right from wrong.”

California’s mask mandate was implemented during a state of emergency at the onset of the pandemic.

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“The pandemic is now endemic and no longer qualifies as a state of emergency,” she said. “The men who signed the Declaration of Independence were not popular. Some gave their lives and lost everything because they believed in freedom.”

“What we did was a baby step, but the right example to set for our students and community,” Ross said.

‘We can disagree. … That is freedom’

Meanwhile, as for parents who feel their children should continue wearing masks inside the classroom, Ross said: “Wear them!”

“They, too, can choose what is right for their child,” Ross told Fox News. “If they want them to wear a mask they should.”

Ross said the move creates a mask “option.”

“The option is a choice, and I hope our community can respect that we might make different choices,” Ross said, adding that this is a “wonderful teaching opportunity for our students.”

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“We as adults should demonstrate civil discourse. We can disagree, but still support one another,” Ross said. “That is freedom and I believe we can do it.” 

The move by the school board for the Rancho Santa Fe School District comes after California lifted the indoor mask mandate for vaccinated individuals. The Newsom administration, though, left the school mask mandate in place, and also continues to require mask-wearing on public transit, in health care facilities and in airports.

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California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, earlier this month, said that the school mask mandate and other COVID-19 protocols would be reassessed Feb. 28, and assured that the mandate for schoolchildren would eventually be lifted, maintaining that “the question is when, not if.”

California’s move to keep the school mask mandates in place follows New York City, Washington, D.C., and other Democrat-led areas where officials have lifted requirements for face coverings in most instances — except for inside the classroom.

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