Students and staff in Long Beach Unified will be able to go to school without a face covering beginning March 12, a local decision that aligns with state guidance announced earlier on Monday.
“After March 11, masks will be strongly recommended but not required indoors at school,” the LBUSD said in a statement Monday evening. “Existing masking requirements for those who are returning after COVID isolation still apply.”
The Long Beach Health Department also sent a statement announcing those who are unvaccinated will be allowed to go maskless indoors beginning Tuesday, in alignment with a state announcement Monday. Last week, the city changed its health orders allowing those who are vaccinated to go without a face covering, but as of Tuesday, masks will only be strongly recommended for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.
One major exception is bars and nightclubs, where the city will continue to require vaccine certification, according to the health department statement late Monday.
“The City also will continue to recommend vaccine verification at restaurants, as has been the case in previous Health Orders,” the statement said.
Everyone will still have to mask up at health care facilities, jails and prisons, emergency shelters, cooling centers, homeless shelters and on public transit
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Monday announcement removed the mandate at the top of the list for schools in California, but that still left individual counties and school districts to remove their own mandates. That happened swiftly in Southern California, with Los Angeles County Public Health dropping their school mask mandate as well.
“LA County Public Health will align school masking measures with the state and shift to strongly recommending indoor masking requirements at childcare sites and K-12 schools beginning March 12,” the agency said in a statement. “School districts may continue to require masking at schools and during school activities and are encouraged to consult with teachers, staff, parents and students as they consider the appropriate safety protections for their school community, recognizing that many individuals may want to continue additional protections.”
For Long Beach, the city’s health department needed to sign off on the decision as well, which it did Monday evening.
That left just the school district to make the decision about its 70,000 students and 12,000 employees. Not all school districts will repeal their mandate. For example, the LAUSD’s COVID-19 agreement with its teachers union includes language about masks remaining a requirement for the rest of the school year.
In Long Beach, the district’s agreement with the Teachers Association of Long Beach simply stated that the district will adhere to mandates by CalOSHA, the California Department of Education, and the Long Beach Health Department. Because of that, the district was free to drop masks without additional negotiations.
TALB Executive Director Chris Callopy said he’s hopeful that the mandate being removed won’t lead to ostracizing of students or staff who choose to remain masked.
“There are those that will be elated and throw their masks off in jubilation and there will be others that are fearful of infection, whether it be just out of a desire not to get infected or they may be immune-compromised or anticipating a procedure or surgery that requires them to be uninfected,” he said. “Ideally the community can be respectful of these two groups. If a student or staff wants to wear a mask to protect themself, it should not be an issue.”
There have been a small but vocal and persistent group of parents organizing on social media and speaking at LBUSD Board of Education meetings over the last few months about the mask mandates. While there hasn’t been much recent agitation in favor of mask-wearing, it’s likely that the city’s parents will be split about whether to continue sending their kids to school in masks or not.
A recent LA Times poll conducted with the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found that two-thirds of California voters supported mask mandates in K-12 schools, including a majority of parents.
“We appreciate everyone’s support to help us get through what we hope will be another stage of returning to normal,” said the LBUSD statement. “We all look forward to classrooms and interactions that help all of our students feel better connected and engaged.”
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