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Newport-Mesa Unified school trustees reject resolution calling for end of K-12 mask mandate

NMUSD parent Chris Jones, right, addresses board members in a meeting Tuesday.
(Screenshot by Sara Cardine)

A parent request urging Newport-Mesa Unified officials to reject a statewide indoor mask mandate for K-12 schools — one of several local pleas being made under a national “Let Them Breathe” campaign — failed Tuesday when board members took no action.

Chris Jones, mother of three students in the district, appeared before school board members Tuesday, where she presented a case against mask-wearing as an effective means of preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

She cited comments from world health leaders indicating such practices did little to filter out the virus and briefly discussed how parents in Florida, who sent worn face masks to a lab for study, learned they were contaminated with bacteria, parasites and fungi.

“Knowing this, why are we masking our children?” Jones posed to board members.

Children hold signs during an Aug. 17  "Let Them Breathe" rally outside the Newport-Mesa Unified School District office.
Children hold signs during an Aug. 17 “Let Them Breathe” rally outside the Newport-Mesa Unified School District office.
(File Photo)

“Wearing a mask creates a visual illusion that brings comfort to those who fear catching the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” she continued. “It is not the responsibility of our children to create comfort to others.”

Jones asked trustees to consider adopting a “Let Them Breathe” resolution, copies of which she distributed to officials at Tuesday’s meeting.

While a copy of that document was not made available to the wider public, similar resolutions have made appearances at school board meetings in Huntington Beach and Irvine, where both local parents and supporters from outside the district have urged leaders to defy the state mandate. Citizens have also protested outside school board meetings under the banner of “Let Them Breathe.”

One such resolution appeared before the Huntington Beach City School District the same night, presented by a Lauren Hernandez, who signed up to speak before the board but did not ultimately appear, preempting any discussion.

The anti-mask push in Huntington Beach seems to be fizzling after Tuesday night’s meeting.

That document asked board members to “advocate in writing to the [California Department of Public Health] to remove mandatory requirements for preventative measures such as masks, quarantines and asymptomatic testing.”

It also asked for leaders to consult instead with city and county health officials to determine safety protocols, advocate for parent choice and not use mask mandates as a means of coercing students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We, as a community, have been doing everything within our power to work within the system to promote change in a positive and effective way. We are tired — tired of asking for permission for our children to breathe.

“We’re looking at our school board members, superintendents, to stand with us and advocate for mask choice in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District,” Jones continued. “Our children need a voice.”

“I don’t like masks, but do you know what I don’t like even more? Distance learning.”

Krista Weigand, NMUSD trustee

Board President Karen Yelsey offered trustees an opportunity to make a motion, which would have triggered a discussion and possibly a vote. They unanimously declined.

Trustee Krista Weigand thanked Jones for advocating for her children but explained why she didn’t make a motion. She said school officials were recently reminded, in a letter issued by the state health department, that districts statewide were obligated to follow the mandate and could be subject to fines and other civil actions for failing to do so.

Beyond that, Weigand said, there were other compelling reasons for adherence.

“I don’t like masks, but do you know what I don’t like even more? Distance learning,” she added. “My kids didn’t learn much at all from distance learning. So, my whole job this year is to keep kids in school full time the whole time.”

Yelsey agreed.

“Our goal is to keep our schools open all day every day this year, and to do that we will continue to follow the guidelines that are set before us,” she said. “If things change, we will change with the [new] guidelines that are given to us.”

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