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Clovis Unified Considers Letting Parents Decide About Their Kids’ Mask Use in School



Some parents want to decide whether their kids should wear face masks in school. (Shutterstock)
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Will face masks be required for students and staff when Clovis Unified schools reopen on Aug. 16? Trustees say parents ought to be able to make that choice for their kids, and staffers make the choice for themselves.

A revised school guidance from the California Department of Public Health may give parents the ability to decide whether their child should have an exemption from wearing a mask, and not leave that decision to a medical professional or a school district employee, Clovis Unified Trustee David DeFrank said during GV Wire’s  “Unfiltered” show Tuesday.

DeFrank introduced a resolution at last week’s Clovis Unified School Board meeting seeking greater local control over “mask choice.” The School Board is scheduled to hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, and the resolution will be attached to the agenda, district spokeswoman Kelly Avants said.

The resolution is more of a general declaration by the board that the district is seeking autonomy from California Public Health face mask requirements, DeFrank said.

Exemption Policy Revision?

The trustees also may consider changing the policy for how exemptions are allowed, giving parents more say in the matter, he said.

DeFrank said parents could “self-attest” as to their child’s need to go maskless, much as businesses have self-attested that employees or customers are not infected with COVID-19.

Parents know their children better than a state bureaucracy and can make better informed choices for them, he said.

But during the “Unfiltered” show, Dr. John Zweifler, a medical consultant with the county public health department, cautioned that parents are not trained clinicians.

Avants said that forms and systems for the exemption process were still being finalized Wednesday. “We are intending to follow CDPH guidance requirements for all non-exempt adults and students,” she said.

Mask use also should be a matter of choice for teachers, Trustee Susan Hatmaker said at last month’s School Board meeting. “When teachers are wearing a mask, it makes it more difficult for students to learn,” she said.

Kristin Heimerdinger, a Buchanan High teacher who heads the budding teachers union, Association of Clovis Educators, said she and other teachers don’t feel safe teaching students in poorly ventilated classrooms while the coronavirus continues to rage.

The nation is still in the grips of a public health crisis, and masking is the last line of defense when teachers and students are together in a classroom, she said.

Districts Must Keep Students, Staff Safe

Districts are required as public agencies and as employers to keep students and staff as safe as possible, and requiring face masks helps accomplish that, Heimerdinger said.

Parents who feel their students can’t risk being in a classroom where others may be unmasked have the option of enrolling in the district’s online school, which up until this year was for high schoolers but was expanded to include elementary and middle school students, DeFrank said.

Forcing parents to make that choice is wrong, Heimerdinger said. Virtual learning is not the best education model for most students, and the district’s goal should be to provide the best education for all students in the safest possible environment, she said.

The public outcry that erupted at the July 21 Clovis Unified board meeting is part of a growing lobbying effort by some parents in the Central Valley and across California to drop mask mandates, even as the state and federal government have revised recommendations on mask use indoors.

Mask Rules Keep Revising

While the California Department of Public Health did not change its requirement for masks inside schools, the Centers for Disease Control had dropped its recommendation for mask use indoors, only to restore it this week as coronavirus infection rates are climbing across the the nation.

On Wednesday, the California Public Health department recommended masking for all indoor public settings in light of the new CDC guidelines.

Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau said on “Unfiltered” that the county won’t be weighing in on the issue of masks in schools, even though he’s heard from many parents who want to be able to choose. He said the supervisors next month will take up a resolution he and Supervisor Buddy Mendes are sponsoring that supports school districts doing “whatever they believe is in the best interest of their students.”

Districts should make the decision of whether to give parents more choice in mask usage or whether to continue requiring masks, he said.

Tulare County supervisors last month passed a resolution in support of local school districts determining whether or not to require masks for students and staff indoors.

Heimerdinger said mask use doesn’t seem to be a big issue for students, however. Elementary and high school teachers who taught summer school reported that “everyone was masked, it was fine, they learned, they got things done. … If that’s what we have to do to be in school, that’s what we have to do.”

Clovis Unified Draft Student Mask Exemption Form

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email