Various school district officials in Orange County will be presented with resolutions calling for the removal of mask mandates at schools at the request of residents.
These resolutions will be brought before district officials just days after county health officials announced the death of a child under the age of 5 from complications of COVID-19 — the second pediatric death in the county.
“It’s an urgent reminder that COVID-19 affects everyone,” said Deputy OC Health Officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong at a Friday press conference. “Across the nation, kids are getting sick.”
Chinsio-Kwong said over 450,000 children in Orange County are still ineligible for the vaccine.
Irvine Unified School District and the Huntington Beach City School District will both be presented with resolutions calling for the removal of mandatory preventative measures like masking, quarantines and asymptomatic testing at the request of members of the public.
Newport-Mesa officials will also be presented with a similar resolution on masks.
“We received a request from the outside group called Let them Breathe, which asked the Board of Education to consider a resolution advocating for mask choice … but this is not a resolution put forward by the Board of Education,” Annie Brown, spokesperson for the Irvine Unified School District said in a Monday phone interview.
Brown added the board will hear a presentation on the resolution during public comments, but will not vote on the resolution tonight.
“Some parents don’t want masks indoors or outdoors. Some parents want masks indoors and outdoors and some parents like it the way it is in terms of universal masking indoors and optional masking outdoors,” Brown said.
“We understand that everybody’s got their point of view and reasons for those points of view but our bright line from the beginning has always been to follow the California Department of Public Health guidelines,” she said.
If the resolutions are adopted by a school board, they won’t have any effect on the state-mandated classroom masks.
Lauren Hernandez, a Huntington Beach resident and Let Them Breathe representative, requested the Irvine school district consider the resolution, according to Brown.
In the Huntington Beach City School District, the resolution also comes from the San Diego based “Let Them Breathe” parent group who have been rallying at local school board meetings urging school districts to make masks optional in the classroom.
The resolution before the two districts is downloadable from the “Let Them Breathe” website, where the group is calling on people to request mask choice resolutions be added to their district agendas.
“We want to forge a working relationship with our board members to establish and accomplish a shared goal of returning local control to the school districts so they can do their job to act in the best interest of the community that elected and hired them,” reads the group’s website.
The resolution states that children are at an “incredibly low risk of severe disease, long-term side effects and death from COVID-19.”
Yet, experts say differently, especially since children younger than 12 can’t get the shot.
“Over 450,000 kids (in OC) are not yet eligible for the vaccine and are at risk for getting COVID,” Deputy OC Health Officer Chisnio-Kwong said during last Friday’s news briefing.
At a news briefing last month, Orange County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said children can spread the virus and noted a rise in pediatric hospitalizations.
“To say that kids are immune from COVID is an absolute lie,” Chau said. “We have seen an increase in cases of kids … testing positive for COVID since at least the beginning of July.”
Regardless of if the optional mask resolutions pass, pandemic restrictions at schools are set by the state and local districts cannot override them.
“The [California Department of Public Health] and the Governor are the decision makers on mask mandates. However, it is crucial to try to get school boards to partner with us in advocating to the state for mask-choice and resolve not to impose their own harmful restrictions or enforcement measures,” the Let Them Breathe website states.
The group also filed a lawsuit against the mask mandate in July.
The Orange County Board of Education has also tried to sue the state over the school mask mandate, but their petition was denied by the California Supreme Court around a week after it was filed.
The board also approved a resolution asking for masks to be optional and some local school districts like the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School district have passed similar resolutions calling on the state to rethink their mask mandate.
It hasn’t just been school districts passing these types of resolutions.
Newport Beach City Council members last month passed a resolution in support of children going maskless at schools and not mandating a Coronavirus vaccine if a parent decides that it is not in the best interest of their children.
[Read: Newport Beach City Council Members Rail Against State School Masks Mandates]
Karen Yelsey, Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees board president, said in a Monday phone interview that the city’s resolution has no effect on the district.
“We want to keep our schools open. My goal is to have our schools open every day all year long. To do that, we have said and we continue to say that we will follow the guidelines that are set before us,” she said.
Yelsey and other Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees, however, will also be presented with a resolution tonight at the request of Chris Jones, a resident in the district, calling for the removal of the mask mandate in schools.
The resolution has not been attached to tonight’s meeting agenda and will be distributed by Jones at the meeting, according to the agenda.
It is unclear if it is the same resolution from Let Them Breathe as other districts will consider.
“It’s in our board policies that any member of the public can request that we add an item to our agenda,” Yelsey said.
She added that because the item is timely, the board is allotting time for Jones to present tonight.
“She will have five minutes to present her resolution and talk about her item and then if there’s a motion to approve it or discuss it, then we will talk about it and discuss it and vote on it,” Yelsey said.
However, she said, if no one makes a motion on the resolution the item will die.
In July, the California Department of Public Health put out mandates requiring masks at schools regardless of vaccination status.
The mandates have faced some pushback from parents and students in Orange County despite local health officials urging people to wear masks and abide by the state mandate.
Both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are recommending universal indoor mask wearing at schools.
The resolutions will be brought before the school district boards on the same day as Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a recall election.
Some gubernatorial candidates, like Larry Elder, plan to repeal statewide mask mandates on their first day of office, if elected to replace Newsom.
The Huntington Beach City School District will hold its regular meeting at 6 p.m. which can be attended in-person or streamed via Zoom.
The Irvine Unified School District will hold its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. which can be attended in-person or streamed live on the district’s website.
The Newport-Mesa Unified School District will hold its regular meeting at 6 p.m. which can be attended in-person or watched live on the district’s YouTube channel.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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