Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody stated on Tuesday, March 1, that the county will not impose any additional restrictions on schools.
According to Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin, after March 11, it will be up to students to decide whether to wear a face covering.
"If you're comfortable masking, whether you're a staff member or a student, continue," Austin said. "Just because it became optional does not mean that there should be pressure to remove a mask. Do what makes sense for you and your family."
While other area schools are similarly announcing unmasking decisions in the wake of the state's announcement, the state is allowing school districts to impose more stringent requirements.
In the K-8 Mountain View Whisman School District, there aren't plans to take off masks just yet.
"For the time being, our schools will continue to require indoor and outdoor masking," Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph wrote in a letter to families on Monday.
Mountain View Whisman's school board plans to discuss masking protocols at a March 10 meeting, Rudolph said.
Even for districts that move to make masks optional, some local education leaders expect that many people won't be dropping their masks just yet. This school year, the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District has only been requiring masks indoors, but a majority of students have still chosen to wear their masks outside, Superintendent Nellie Meyer said.
Mountain View High School Spanish teacher and union president David Campbell is looking forward to taking his mask off. As a language teacher, he depends on facial cues to know if students understand what's happening, he said.
"I cannot wait to see the faces of my kids for the first time all year. I can't wait to see them actually smiling. I can't wait to see them even frowning when they don't understand what I'm saying," Campbell said, adding that it will be beneficial for his students to see his face.
At the same time, Campbell acknowledged that some students and teachers are going to be concerned, and even scared, about the prospect of unmasking. In his role as union president, Campbell said he wants to make sure that the data is being followed in deciding when it's time to lift mask requirements. However, he added that he knows the state has been carefully tracking the relevant numbers and that he trusts state and local health officials are prioritizing everyone's best interests.
"We've just got to be confident in the science," Campbell said. "We've got to be confident in our leaders."
Although it will be up to individual choice, Austin said he thinks the evolution away from wearing masks will happen over time.
"A lot of students and a lot of teachers have been masking in classrooms for a long time now, so some will continue regardless of what the rules are and some will drop that mask off on the very first day they are allowed and some will ease into it," Austin said.
Some educators have concerns. Sequoia Union High School District Teachers Association President Edith Salvatore said her district hasn't shared student vaccination rates, and because of this, she doesn't know the kind of risk teachers may face if indoor mask mandates are dropped.
The state decided to drop the mask mandate in schools based on decreasing hospitalization and transmission rates, state Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly said during a Monday press conference. Cases are down 66% statewide over the last two weeks, he shared.
"We said we would look at the data and we're seeing really encouraging trends," he said.
The same is true locally, prompting Santa Clara County health leaders to lift the indoor mask mandate.
But Ghaly cautioned that vaccination rates among school aged children in the state are still "too low." In Santa Clara County, 72.7% of kids ages 5-17 have completed their initial vaccine series, compared to 93.9% of adults.
Rates among children in San Mateo County are lagging too. Some 63.5% of those ages 5 to 11 had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as of Feb. 27, according to county data, lower than rates in other groups. This is still ahead of other parts of the state, such as Los Angeles County, which only has a 34.4% vaccine rate amongst 5- to 11-year-olds, as of Feb. 24.
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