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Huntington Beach City School District offers no discussion on Let Them Breathe resolution

Kids and parents  in front of the Orange County Department of Education building in Costa Mesa last May.
A “Let the Kids Breathe” rally was held in front of the Orange County Department of Education building in Costa Mesa in May. A resolution presented to the Huntington Beach City School District seeking the removal of mandatory mask requirements fell to the wayside during Tuesday’s board meeting.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A resolution presented to the Huntington Beach City School District seeking the removal of mandatory mask requirements fell to the wayside during Tuesday’s board meeting.

Board members offered no discussion on the item, which was added to the agenda after a request from Lauren Hernandez of Huntington Beach.

The item, affiliated with the group “Let Them Breathe,” was also introduced at the Newport-Mesa and Irvine school district board meetings Tuesday night, among others.

Hernandez was signed up to speak via Zoom on the item, which asked the board to advocate to the California Department of Public Health for the removal of mandatory masks, quarantines and asymptomatic testing.

But Hernandez explained afterward that she found herself unable to log in to the Zoom meeting before being called on by Jimmy Lambos, the administrative assistant to Supt. Leisa Winston.

Not only did the board members not adopt the resolution, but they declined to discuss it when it was introduced. Vice President Bridget Kaub was the only member to address the resolution, during her closing comments.

“I think that we should acknowledge the folks that came to speak from Let Them Breathe,” Kaub said.

“Thank you very much for your time, but I’d also like to reiterate that last month this board did pass a resolution that was asking the state for some local control. I think we’re meeting somewhere in the middle ... We have passed a resolution. It isn’t this one, but it is something that goes somewhere in-between.”

At last month’s meeting, board members unanimously voted to update the district’s 2021-22 safety plan as consistent with the latest guidance from the California Department of Public Health.

That guidance states that students from kindergarten through 12th grade should wear a mask indoors while at school, unless the student has a medical exemption. Masks are optional outdoors.

The board did also pass a separate resolution asking for local control, but the district continues to follow the CDPH guidelines.

Let Them Breathe filed a lawsuit in July, suing the state to end the mask mandate. A similar lawsuit filed Aug. 10 by the Orange County Board of Education was rejected by the California Supreme Court just eight days later.

Tuesday’s Huntington Beach City School District board meeting was much more reserved than last month’s meeting, which featured audience members talking over board members and holding up signs at times.

But Peterson Elementary kindergarten teacher Judy Barsh, who identified herself as part of the Let Them Breathe group, again spoke out against mask mandates.

“It’s difficult trying to get to know these children when they’re hidden behind masks, and trying to get them to get comfortable with me when I’m hidden behind a mask,” Barsh said.

Wendy Leece, a former Newport-Mesa Unified School District board member and Costa Mesa City Council member, showed up to speak on behalf of her grandson, a student in the district.

“The children I teach, in grades seven through 12, have suffered greatly from the effects of being isolated and now having to wear masks,” she said. “I think it’s time that each district does its homework and stands up for what is right for our children.”

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Updates

9:11 a.m. Sept. 17, 2021: This story has been updated to clarify that Lauren Hernandez was unable to log into the Zoom meeting when it was her time to speak. It originally stated she appeared to leave the meeting.


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