Parents whose kids are attending Clovis Unified schools will now need a note from a licensed medical professional to have a face mask exemption, district spokeswoman Kelly Avants told reporters Monday afternoon.
The School Board voted July 30 to allow parents to “self-attest” that their children have a medical or mental health issue or a disability for which a face mask would interfere with their education.
But guidance released Friday by the California Department of Public Health keeps in place last year’s requirement that parents obtain a doctor’s note attesting to the need for a mask exemption or alternative face covering.
The district’s face mask resolution last month included a caveat that stricter rules could be implemented if state officials updated public health recommendations, Avants said.
About 4% to 5% of parents of the district’s 43,000 students had submitted exemption applications by last Friday’s deadline, and the district has been notifying them about the updated requirement, she said.
Parents who do not obtain the exemption in time for the first day of school on Aug. 16 and do not want their child to wear a mask in school will be provided their schoolwork until they can obtain an exemption, similar to how the district works with parents who can’t provide proof of immunization for childhood diseases such as chicken pox or measles by the first day of school, she said.
Parents also will have the option to sign their child up for independent study or Clovis Online School, Avants said.
Some Parents Sought Mask Choice
The School Board’s unanimous vote last week came after intensive lobbying by parents and community members for “local control” to let parents decide whether their children should wear masks in school.
The district’s initial recommendation was to require face shields with drapes or other face covers for students for whom masks interfere with their education, but the School Board opted to remove that requirement and voted not to require any face coverings for students with exemptions signed by their parents.
At the board meeting, board president Dr. Steven Fogg noted that he was unable to determine the extent to which COVID-19 has been impacting children in Clovis because he has not been able to obtain hard data, even after visiting Valley Children’s Hospital.
That prompted an unusually public response from the hospital’s president and CEO, Todd Suntrapak, who cautioned local school officials as well as parents and other community members against thinking that Clovis is in a bubble separate from other communities and school districts in the county, where the coronavirus is surging.
The number of childhood coronavirus cases is growing at Valley Children’s, just as it is across the county as the Delta variant surges primarily through unvaccinated residents but also is infecting vaccinated people in “breakthrough” cases.
“Valley Children’s Hospital has one agenda — resting on its commitment to advocate for actions, decisions and policies that are in the best interests of kids and their parents,” Suntrapak said in the six-page letter addressed to Fogg and copied to the other six School Board members. “Our mission cannot be involved with philosophical or political differences that distract us from that commitment. That is why, in every instance, we strive to have our advocacy be aligned with experts, science and evidence — and the national recommendations for kids to get back to school wearing a mask is one we fully support.”
Avants said she could not provide a response from the district to Suntrapak’s letter. “That’s a conversation between our School Board president and the sender of that letter,” she said.
County Supervisors Mull Resolution
Meanwhile, on Tuesday the Fresno County Board of Supervisors will consider a resolution supporting “local control” by school boards over how instruction is conducted.
The resolution would call for state and federal officials to return control of classroom instruction decisions to local school districts and their governing boards, “consistent with existing data and local conditions.”