California issues school mask mandate and rescinds it within hours

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

This turned out to be one of the quicker cases of a governmental about-face in recent memory. Despite the CDC’s recent guidance saying that it was safe to go back to in-person learning at schools and universities without the need for masks, the state of California decided to make up its own rules yesterday. State health officials not only ignored the CDC guidance but went several steps further. The new instructions would have forced schools to bar students from campus if they refused to wear a mask. That lasted for approximately four hours. Then Gavin Newsom and state public health Director Mark Ghaly apparently thought better of it. They won’t be issuing orders for colleges and universities, and the “mandate” for public K-12 schools will leave the decision up to the schools. So in reality, there is no mandate at all. (Los Angeles Times)

The complications of managing COVID-era education took a dramatic turn Monday, when state officials issued a rule barring unmasked students from campuses, and then, hours later, rescinded that rule — while keeping in place a mask mandate for all at K-12 schools.

Instead, the latest revision allows local school officials to decide how to deal with students who refuse to wear masks, a spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday night.

The statewide policy that prohibited unmasked students from campus had been intended to provide helpful clarity for local educators as they work to provide a safe environment for staff and students.

You have to wonder what prompted such a quick turnaround. Is it possible that the phones began ringing off the hooks as soon as the ban on unmasked students was announced? With Gavin Newsom being so close to a recall election, he probably doesn’t want to cause any more waves right now, so perhaps he thought better of it.

Unfortunately, the latest decision will just create a patchwork of rules for public schools. Some of them will have the option of letting everyone go maskless, while others may still make masks a requirement for entry. Still others will have the option to require masks for the unvaccinated, while the vaccinated can skip them.

That third option has to be about the worst of the bunch, so you know that the teacher’s unions will endorse it. First of all, children under the age of 12 aren’t even eligible for vaccination yet. That’s expected to happen in the coming weeks, but it’s not going to be anywhere near 100% complete by the time school begins. And we’re talking about children here. How are they going to respond when they are told they have to continue wearing masks while seeing some of the classmates freely going about maskless? It’s hard enough to get adults to put up with nonsense like that, say nothing of elementary school kids.

California has one of the largest school systems in the country, if not the world. A one-size-fits-all approach is going to be a failure on multiple fronts. Bigger, inner-city schools deal with denser population levels and potentially higher transmission risks outside of the buildings. More rural areas have far fewer such concerns. There are also cultural differences from place to place. Parents in a more conservative district might not be in favor of masking, while liberal strongholds may be.

The point is, let them make up their own minds. And if the school boards get too far out of control and anger enough of the parents, the parents can either run for board positions themselves and replace them or move to a district that’s a better fit for them. As far as Gavin Newsom goes, the only thing he managed to accomplish yesterday was a boondoggle that left him looking feckless and indecisive.