Indoor mask requirements for students and staff will be lifted next Wednesday in the Los Angeles Unified School District, officials announced.
When the United Teachers Los Angeles teachers’ union reached a deal on Friday, it dropped its requirement that masks remain in place until a certain percentage of students and staff were vaccinated against COVID-19. The union had called for a 75 percent threshold, which would have been difficult to achieve in elementary schools. County health officials recently estimated that 29% of children ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated.
The deal also includes a commitment to maintain required weekly coronavirus testing for all staff and students, which costs about $5 million a week, through the end of the school year.
However, the union and the district agreed to reassess the test plan in mid-April and mid-May. As part of the One Page Dealbecomes the district Consultation with union regarding use of money saved by reducing testing before the end of the school year. The funds would be “distributed for use in schools,” the agreement said.
“I strongly support the elimination of the mask requirement indoors and am committed to continuing to uphold our science-based approach to COVID-19 safety and protocols,” Supt. said Alberto M. Carvalho in a statement. “I would like to personally thank our students, staff and families for their support and patience.”
Carvalho said families can make their own masking decisions: “We know that some in our school communities and offices will continue to wear masks, while others may not. Please think about your situation and do what is best for you or your child.”
In addition, the county agreed:
- Keep a stock of good quality masks and make them available to staff upon request
- “Strongly encourage ‘indoor masking’ in every school and workplace through continuous communication”
- Maintain a public COVID-19 dashboard of infection information that could be used to discuss “the potential need for change” in safety practices
There will also be a new round of baseline tests for all students and staff before they return from spring break, which runs from April 11-15. The school system will offer “quick grab-and-go antigen tests” before the break. Students and staff should use the tests at least 48 hours before returning to campus and upload any positive results to the district’s health screening system called Daily Pass.
Persons with an active infection are not allowed to enter the campus.
The question of how long to maintain the mask mandate has been a challenge, with parents on both sides of the issue holding strong views. The vast majority of the county’s 80 school systems have either moved to optional masking or have a timeline to do so.
County health officials, while allowing optional masking, “strongly” recommend continued mask use in schools. They also said they fully support decisions by individual school systems on whether to keep the requirement.
Carvalho had said that he was ready to make the transition to optional masking, but the district had committed to negotiating with the teachers’ union.
Throughout the pandemic The district leaders and the teachers’ union agreed on this Safety protocols that are among the strictest in the nation.
Defenders say these practices have kept schools safer during the pandemic, potentially preventing illness and deaths and avoiding industrial action.
Critics said the measures sometimes did more harm than good to students. They cite a distance learning plan — when campuses closed because of the pandemic — that required fewer live online classes than other major California school systems, a more gradual reopening of campuses, and more recently a mask mandate that stayed in place longer than required by public health officials.
It’s time to deal with “a pandemic of learning loss,” parent Gabbie Metheny wrote in an email to district and union leaders on Friday, urging them to end the mask mandate.
“We may not have herd immunity, but we have incredible immunity as a community,” wrote Metheny, who has two children at Bushnell Way Elementary School in Montecito Heights. “We have vaccines, we have rapid antigen tests, we have CVS, which distributes antiviral pills to people who test positive.”
She added: “Parents can still send their kids to school wearing masks if they want! But it’s time to let parents and children make that choice for themselves.”
Evelyn Aleman who organized a group of Hispanic speaking Latino parents presenting their opinion saw the mask decision differently.
“Our parents were hoping that the mask mandate would remain in place through the end of the school year,” said Aleman, who has a daughter at Cleveland Charter High School in Reseda.
She alluded to research indicating that black, Hispanic and low-income families suffered disproportionately from economic hardship, illness and death during the pandemic.
Retaining the mandate “wasn’t asking much given the Latino community’s ongoing challenges with COVID.” Although Latino children make up 74% of LA Unified’s student population, we believe the district’s mandate change is trying to appease a much smaller but louder group of parental voices. This puts the well-being of our community at risk.”
More than half of Los Angeles Unified teachers who responded to a union poll this week wanted to continue the indoor mask mandate.
According to an update the union sent to members Thursday morning, 58% were in favor of complying with the requirement and 42% in favor of ending it.
“I don’t understand why our union would want our opinion when they just turn around and ignore it,” teacher Jon Loch said in an email. “It feels like we’re sold out.”
In a statement, union leader Cecily Myart-Cruz said the agreement had achieved its goal of keeping staff and students safe.
The survey was conducted on March 13-14 and more than 18,500 union members took part. According to the latest figures, the union has more than 30,000 members and represents nurses, consultants and librarians as well as teachers.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-03-18/l-a-unified-teachers-union-reach-deal-to-make-indoor-masking-optional-on-campuses LA Unified Schools Indoor Mask Mandate Repealed