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L.A. teachers union members approve deal to lift mandate and make masking optional

Students play outdoors at Fair Avenue Early Education Center
These students at Fair Avenue Early Education Center in North Hollywood will likely have to continue wearing masks, but the vast majority of older students will have the option to remove them as of Wednesday.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Members of the Los Angeles teachers union have ratified an agreement to make masking optional in the nation’s second-largest school system, the union announced Monday night.

Under the agreement, the indoor masking requirement for students and staff will be lifted Wednesday for staff and students ranging from early transitional kindergarten through 12th grade and also including adult school and work sites without students.

Among those who cast ballots, 84% voted yes and 16% voted no.

Under the deal, one small segment of student enrollment would continue to have a masking requirement. All children in district programs who are younger than four, as well as four-year-olds who are not yet in early transitional kindergarten or transitional kindergarten must continue to wear masks, as well as the staff who work with them.

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In a statement Monday, L.A. Unified said it wanted to avoid “confusion in communities,” because federal early education programs, which are not run by the district, were still requiring masks for that age group. For that reason, “we are continuing to require masking in our early education programs,” the statement said. “We will continue to engage and revisit policies as new guidance and our science-based approach allows.”

The district declined to say how many students would be affected.

Teachers union President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a statement that this masking exception was an important part of the agreement.

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.

Myart-Cruz said this, too, was a crucial provision: “Our health and safety priorities in negotiations with the district were two-fold: to keep in place the regular COVID testing program that has proven to keep our communities safe and to protect our youngest learners in early education programs who are not able to be vaccinated.”

Children younger than five are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The union and district agreed to reevaluate the testing plan in mid-April and mid-May.

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.

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While permitting optional masking, county health officials “strongly recommend” the continued use of masks in schools

The union has more than 30,000 members, according to recent figures, and represents nurses, counselors and librarians as well as teachers. More than 18,000 cast ballots.

The Board of Education is expected to approve the agreement.

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