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Confusion swirls around school face masks
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The subject of students wearing face masks when schools reopen is a hot topic on social media.

One school of thought questions why schools such as Manteca Unified and Ripon Unified indicate they will likely simply “strongly recommend” students wear face masks as opposed to requiring them.

It strikes many as contradictory given Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order that all Californians 3 years and older unless they qualify with certain exceptions must wear face masks in public buildings where social distancing is impossible to maintain at all times. Schools, under the state’s definition, are public buildings.

Schools, however, have many masters. They must — for the most part — adhere to guidelines issued by the California Department of Health, the San Joaquin County Office of Education, and the California Department of Education.

Guidance circulated by various state agencies has not been 100 percent consistent on the issue of student face masks. The 62-page guidance issued by the Department of Education on June 8 states all students should wear face masks yet subsequent guidelines by the California Department of Health that the San Joaquin County Health Department must follow when allowing reopening to occur indicates face masks for students should be encouraged.

Meanwhile, Newsom’s statewide mask order exempts certain public settings from the face mask rule that have their own guidelines — such as schools, which take direction from the departments of education and public health.

Under its current reopening plan, the state’s education department encourages face coverings and says that districts need to be “well-resourced” with masks “at a minimum.” The state public health department is telling schools to “teach and reinforce use” of masks and other shields.

While schools take direction from the state Department of Education they also must follow public health rules that are tailored by county. In this case the state is sending mixed signals to schools through two different authorities.

It might seem as simple issue as schools deciding to put in place the stricter requirement of mandatory face mask use. But schools are also subject to a wide array of civil rights rulings that could get them into hot water.

Given Manteca Unified is staying with a traditional education plan for the school year starting Aug. 6 instead of a hybrid model or staggered sessions with 50 percent of the student body in morning sessions and the other half in afternoon sessions, social distancing protocols will be impossible to implement in classrooms.

In such a case some parents and teachers believe face masks should be mandatory given they are considered to be a fairly effective way to reduce the chances of a person wearing them to transmit COVID-19 to someone else.

As for staff, there is no question. They must wear face coverings.

The San Joaquin County Office of Education guidelines state, “All staff should use cloth face coverings unless Cal/OSHA standards require respiratory protection. Teachers can use face shields, if available, which enable younger students to see their teachers’ faces and to avoid potential barriers to phonological instruction.”

As of Thursday at 12:40 p.m. there are now 92 COVID-19 patients in hospitals throughout San Joaquin County. Adventist Life Memorial Hospital in Lodi this past week suspended admitting non-COVID-19 patients due to the recent surge in cases. The 92 people hospitalized are two more than on Wednesday and represents a new record.

The number of people currently confirmed with the virus is at 1,415 down 36 from Wednesday. There have been 1,469 people who have recovered. San Joaquin County has 760,000 residents.

There were no new deaths. The 49 deaths to date reflect a 1.7 percent fatality rate among all known cases — recovered and who still have the virus — of 2,884 countywide.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email