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Placentia-Yorba Linda school district returns to class — and clashes over masks

PYLUSD board president Carrie Buck explains the indoor mask requirement at a Jan. 11 meeting before adjourning.
PYLUSD board president Carrie Buck explains the indoor mask requirement at a Jan. 11 meeting before adjourning on account of noncompliance.
(Screenshot by Gabriel San Roman)

For much of the coronavirus pandemic, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District board meetings have been the scene of public health defiance, not compliance.

Speakers at the podium routinely rail against masks in schools, vaccines and vaccine mandates. Often times, they find common cause with the board.

In July, a majority of trustees voted in favor of asking state health officials to make masking optional at schools. The board was set to consider another resolution this week asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to rescind a forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public and private schools.

But the meeting abruptly adjourned over indoor mask requirements long before the resolution ever came up for discussion and a vote.

Board president Carrie Buck held to implementing the California Department of Public Health’s indoor mask requirement regardless of vaccination status, which was announced last month.

The board’s previous Dec. 14 meeting took place a day before the new mandate took effect across the state. At that time, masks were optional for vaccinated individuals but required for those who remained unvaccinated. Compliance was left to the honor system.

It’s also the same meeting where a majority of trustees decided to follow the tradition of rotating positions on the board when they voted to elect Buck as president.

Trustee Leandra Blades, who faced calls to resign after she attended the Jan. 6, 2021 pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington D.C., was the lone vote in opposition to Buck after she made a failed motion to have fellow trustee Shawn Youngblood elected president.

Buck, who set out to preside over her first full meeting as president on Tuesday, made the new masking rule known from the onset.

“We already have people not wearing masks tonight,” she said. “It’s required that you are masked. Please take a couple of minutes and put your masks on.”

Buck read a longer statement about the public health requirement in place and noted that mesh masks were not acceptable under it.

The district provided masks in the lobby for people who arrived without one. Those who still refused to be masked were instructed to watch the school board meeting outside or online. After a brief pause and continued noncompliance, Buck adjourned the meeting less than five minutes into it.

Travis Ranch School sent sixth-graders home for instruction last month following a rash of COVID-19 cases.
(Gabriel San Roman)

But the school board wasn’t the only venue for an ongoing controversy over mask mandates that day.

As coronavirus cases continued to spike in the district, the focus of a small protest held outside of Travis Ranch School in Yorba Linda this week centered on masking requirements for students. Last month, a coronavirus outbreak at the school forced the entire sixth-grade class to quarantine from campus a week before winter break.

On Tuesday morning, parents held protest signs calling the Travis Ranch’s principal a tyrant and demanded to see district policy regarding what types of mask are allowable for attendance with school back in session.

The controversy followed the unsuccessful attempt to send one student to class with a mesh mask.

An hour after the protest started, Orange County sheriff deputies responded to a disturbance call about people yelling inside the school’s front office.

“One person alleged they were assaulted,” said Sgt. Ryan Anderson, a sheriff’s spokesman. “A report was taken and the investigation is ongoing.”

According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, 512 coronavirus cases were confirmed between students and staff on Jan. 11, the date of the protest and cancelled school board meeting.

With time-sensitive agenda items remaining, the district will reschedule another board meeting to address them. With the statewide mandate extended through Feb. 15, mask enforcement will follow the same protocols going forward.

“The district will continue to ask all individuals in attendance at board meetings to wear a mask indoors for the duration of the meeting in alignment with CDPH’s Guidance for the Use of Face Masks,” said a district spokeswoman. “Individuals who do not wish to wear a mask throughout the extent of the board meeting may listen to the meeting outside or watch the meeting via live stream.”

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