L.A. Unified to lift indoor mask mandate next week in agreement with teachers union

L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho wears a mask to talk to masked students.
L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho talks with science students at Washington Preparatory High School in South L.A. Starting next Wednesday, masks will be optional.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The indoor masking requirement for students and staff will be lifted next Wednesday in the Los Angeles Unified School District, officials announced.

In reaching a deal Friday, the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, dropped its demand that masks remain in place until a particular percentage of students and staff had been vaccinated against COVID-19. The union had asked for a 75% threshold, which would have been difficult to achieve at elementary campuses. County health officials recently estimated that 29% of children ages 5 to 11 have been fully vaccinated.

The deal also includes a commitment to keep in place required weekly coronavirus testing for all staff and students, which costs about $5 million per week, through the end of the school year.


However, the union and district agreed to reevaluate the testing plan in mid-April and mid-May. As part of the one-page deal, the district will consult with the union regarding the use of money saved by cutting back on testing prior to the end of the school year. The funding would be “distributed for use in schools,” the agreement states.

“I strongly support ending the indoor mask requirement and am committed to continuing to uphold our science-based approach to COVID-19 safety and protocols,” Supt. Alberto M. Carvalho said in a statement. “I want to personally thank our students, employees and families for their support and patience.”

Carvalho said families can make their own masking decisions: “We know some in our school communities and offices will continue to wear masks, while others may not. Please consider your situation and do what is best for you or your child.”

The district also agreed to:

  • Maintain a supply of high-grade masks and provide them to employees upon request
  • “Strongly encourage” indoor masking “at every school and worksite through ongoing communications”
  • Maintain a public COVID-19 dashboard with information about infections, which could be used to discuss “the potential need for changes” to safety practices

There also will be a new round of baseline testing for all students and staff before returning from spring break, which runs from April 11 through April 15. The school system will provide “take-home, rapid-antigen tests” prior to the break. Students and staff are supposed to use the tests no earlier than 48 hours prior to returning to campus and upload any positive results into the district’s health screening system, called Daily Pass.

Anyone with an active infection is not allowed on campus.

The issue of how long to keep the mask mandate has been challenging, with parents on each side of the issue holding strong views. The vast majority of the county’s 80 school systems either have moved to optional masking or have a timetable for doing so.

While permitting optional masking, county health officials “strongly recommend” the continued use of masks in schools. They also said they fully support decisions made by individual school systems on whether to keep the requirement.


Carvalho had said that he was ready to make the transition to optional masking, but the district had committed to negotiating with the teachers union.

Throughout the pandemic, district leaders and the teachers union have been in general agreement on safety protocols that have been among the strictest in the nation.

Defenders say these practices have kept schools safer during the pandemic, possibly preventing illness and death, and have avoided labor strife.

Critics have said the measures have sometimes resulted in more harm than benefit to students. They cite a remote learning plan — when campuses were closed because of the pandemic — that required less live online instruction than other large California school systems, a more gradual reopening of campuses and, more recently, a mask mandate that remained in place longer than required by health officials.

It’s time to deal with “a pandemic of learning loss,” parent Gabbie Metheny wrote in a Friday email to district and union leaders, urging them to end the mask mandate.

“We may not have herd immunity, but we have an incredible amount of immunity as a community,” wrote Metheny, who has two children at Bushnell Way Elementary School in Montecito Heights. “We have vaccines, we have rapid antigen tests, we have CVS handing out antiviral pills to people who test positive.”

She added: “Parents can still send their children to school with masks, if they want! But it’s time to let parents and children make that choice for themselves.”


Evelyn Aleman, who has organized a group of Spanish-speaking Latino parents to put forward their views, saw the mask decision differently.

“Our parents were hoping that the mask mandate would remain in place until the end of the school year,” said Aleman, who has a daughter at Cleveland Charter High School in Reseda.

She alluded to research indicating that Black, Latino and low-income families suffered disproportionately from economic hardship, illness and death during the pandemic.

Retaining the mandate “wasn’t much to ask, given the Latino community’s ongoing challenges with COVID. Although Latino children are 74% of L.A Unified’s student population, we believe that in changing its mandate, the district is trying to appease a much smaller, but louder, group of parent voices. In doing so, it’s putting at risk our community’s well-being.”

More than half of Los Angeles Unified teachers who responded to a union poll this week wanted to continue the indoor mask mandate.

The tally was 58% for keeping the requirement and 42% for ending it, according to an update the union sent to members Thursday morning.


“I don’t understand why our union would want to get our opinion if they were just going to turn around and ignore it,” teacher Jon Loch said in an email. “It feels like we got sold out.”

In a statement, union President Cecily Myart-Cruz said the agreement accomplished the goal of keeping staff and students safe.

The poll was conducted on March 13 and 14, and more than 18,500 union members participated. The union has more than 30,000 members, according to recent figures, and represents nurses, counselors and librarians as well as teachers.