One youth at Tuesday's Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting made this passionate plea.

“Just fix the schools and make everything normal again,” she said.

That was a sentiment presented by numerous parents and teachers at the board meeting, stating when it comes to mask mandates at schools, the decisions should be made at the local level and take into consideration parental choice.

With that in mind the county board joined other counties such as El Dorado and Placer in unanimously approving a resolution supporting local choice when it comes to mask mandates. The resolution supports “delegating of authority for school COVID-19 safety protocol to local school boards to advocate for parental choice and give students the opportunity to safely return to a normal classroom setting.”

While the resolution deals generally with giving local control as far as COVID-19 policies in schools are concerned, it was the state policy when it came to the use of masks in schools that led to the resolution. County board members noted the county has no authority when it comes what policies would be implemented in schools as that would be up to school boards.

Last week the California Department of Public Health issued a policy in which the wearing of masks would be required of everyone in indoor settings at schools. CDPH's policy went a little further than the Centers For Disease Control's recommendation that the wearing of masks in classrooms in schools be done when physical distancing isn't possible.

But with Governor Gavin Newsom issuing a directive that all schools in the state fully reopen to in-person learning when the new school year begins, many schools won't be able to maintain physical distancing when fully reopening classrooms. So the state decided on a blanket policy that masks would be required.

What caused the most controversy was when the state's policy stated students who didn't wear a mask would be removed from campus. The state quickly backtracked on that, removing that language from the policy and stated enforcement of mask wearing would be left up to school boards.

But Supervisor Dennis Townsend said even with the state issuing a statement it would be up to school boards to enforce the mask policy, it was still important for the county board to pass the resolution that “strongly supports” local control.

That point was also made by Supervisor Peter Vander Poel, who stated Los Angeles and San Francisco could take whatever action they felt was necessary but that Tulare County should also be able to decide to do what it feels is best for this area.

Board president Amy Shuklian said the county also received a request to include vaccinations in the resolution. But Shuklian noted parental consent is already needed for the vaccination of youths.

She also said the county resolution wasn't a directive telling school boards the couldn't require the wearing of masks.

The Burton School District has announced it will return to full, in-person learning and that the wearing of masks in the classroom will be required. The Porterville Unified School District stated it will announce soon its plans for the upcoming school year when it comes to full, in-person learning and its mask policy. Burton's school year begins on August 10 and the PUSD school year begins on August 12.

But there were parents at Tuesday's meeting who stated they wouldn't force their children to attend school if they had to wear a mask and would choose to home school them instead. All of the parents and teachers at Tuesday's meeting stated those in the classroom should have the option not to wear a mask.

Concerns raised included how students learn visually, especially younger students and how difficult it is to communicate with younger students when wearing a mask. This concern has also been raised with English learners.

Those at the meeting also brought up the mental health problems youth have had, including those who have contemplated suicide, as the result of not being able to be in a normal school setting.

While Supervisor Eddie Valero voted for the resolution and noted the importance of local control, he also referred to the American Academy of Pediatrics coming out with a recommendation that goes even further than the CDC. The AAP recommends the wearing of masks in the classroom at all times even if physical distancing is possible, including with the youngest students.

The resolution states: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) have issued guidance that universal mask mandates are no longer necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The resolution added “Students have, with the downgrading of masking mandates, been attending gatherings, engaging in organized and unorganized sporting and play activities, dining out with family and friends, and interacting daily in their normal routines without requirement for masking or social distancing. Moreover, a student’s ability to see, appreciate, and communicate through facial expressions is crucial to a child’s social development, mental health, and physical wellbeing.

“Our public health branch has worked closely over the last year with schools to develop safety plans and ensure all measures around an effective COVID-19 response are in place to protect staff and students of K-12 schools.

The resolution concludes by stating: “It is imperative that the State support local school districts and their governing bodies in making determinations regarding school safety protocols so that children may safely return to a normal classroom setting and receive the education they desperately need.”

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