Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announced earlier this week that he will soon ease the statewide indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people, spurring another round of interest in when schools will lower their mask mandates.
It’s been a topic of discussion in Long Beach, where Wilson High School was the site of a protest last week and where other schools have seen smaller-scale protests as well.
The short answer: No one is sure yet.
“Essentially, it’s too soon to say when our local schools might lift the indoor mask requirement,” LBUSD spokesperson Chris Eftychiou said.
Where does the school mask mandate come from?
Many of the protests of masks in schools are misdirected. Currently, there is a school mask mandate at the state level that’s set to remain in place even after Newsom eases the broader indoor mask mandate next week.
As a starting place for schools to unmask kids, California would have to lift its school mandate. There may soon be news on that front. The governor said Wednesday that state officials will outline a revised approach to mask-wearing in schools no later than Monday. It’s unclear what the new approach will look like, but it comes after negotiations with school officials and teachers unions along with news of New Jersey and other states easing mask requirements in schools.
Even in the event that the statewide mandate disappears, other mandates would then have to be lifted at the local level. Los Angeles County has already announced it won’t lift its indoor mask mandate at the same time the governor does. The city of Long Beach, which sets its own rules apart from the county, also says its mandate will remain until certain triggers are met—triggers that at still weeks away at a minimum.
And finally, the Long Beach Unified School District or individual private schools would then have a say over whether they will also remove their own mandates. Some schools have masks built into their COVID-19 work agreements with employees, which would require an additional set of steps to undo.
What’s the bottom line?
Given the likely timeframe for all these criteria to be met, and for mandates to be rescinded at the state, county, and city level, it’s likely that students will continue to mask for weeks to come.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, public health agencies could change criteria as community transmission improves or worsens; if case numbers remain in a freefall, the timeframe could be shortened.
Newsom’s promised announcement about a revised approach to school masking could also be key, setting the tone for smaller jurisdictions to follow suit.