By Kathy Chouteau
Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey announced her endorsement today of a letter from the California Department of Public Health that outlines school leaders’ legal obligation to follow the universal masking requirement in K-12 settings.
The letter, sent to education leaders statewide last week from State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, underscores the legal and financial risks, as well as the health consequences that schools and school districts face if they do not carry out the universal mask requirement for indoor school settings.
The letter follows state bans on universal indoor masking in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. The five states are currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights over whether their statewide prohibitions “discriminate against students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 by preventing them from safely accessing in-person education.”
Underscoring the pivotal role of masks in returning to in-person instruction, Mackey said Dr. Aragón’s letter “reaffirms the science behind universal masking” and drives home the consequences for schools and school districts that place their communities at risk by ignoring the science.
“I strongly encourage and advise all of the schools and school districts in Contra Costa County to follow the guidance to protect their students and staff members and avoid potential legal and financial consequences,” added Mackey.
In his letter, Dr. Aragón said school leaders have a legal duty and a “moral imperative” to protect California’s students, cautioning that COVID-19—and especially the Delta variant—poses great health risks to students and that “adults responsible for their safety should do everything possible to minimize those risks.”
“There is a clear public health justification for requiring universal masking in K-12 schools to minimize those risks and avoid the needless tragedy of a student dying from COVID-19 due to exposure that could have been prevented through universal masking,” Dr. Aragón wrote in his letter.
A statement from Mackey’s office outlined that schools can develop local protocols for enforcing the mask requirement, but are unable to opt-out of it.
Dr. Aragón said in his letter that all schools are required to follow the universal mask requirement, as it is a public health directive akin to other public health orders. The state will work with schools, local governments and other state officials “to ensure schools implement this requirement to keep children and staff safe,” he said.