Parents are optimistic as local school districts prepare to roll back mask requirements

Colin Totman walks his daughter to class on Tuesday morning at Hope View Elementary in Huntington Beach.
Colin Totman walks his daughter, Grace, to class on Tuesday morning at Hope View Elementary in Huntington Beach. Mask requirement for California classrooms will be lifted after March 11.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Early Tuesday morning, holding the hand of his daughter, Grace, Colin Totman headed to the campus of Hope View Elementary School.

The Huntington Beach father said he and his family have never really had any trouble following mask-wearing requirements issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom. But as the world trudges into the third year of the pandemic, fatigue has set in.

Grace, a third-grader who on Tuesday was wearing a face mask per school regulations, recently told her dad she was “tired” of them.

Beginning the week of March 14, area school districts will say goodbye to indoor masking in alignment with changes announced by state officials Monday, who cited declining COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations. Before that, California and Hawaii were the only states with indoor mask mandates for schools.

Totman said he was “thankful we’re moving in that direction.”

Following Newsom’s decision, announcements slowly rolled out from the Newport-Mesa Unified, Huntington Beach City, Huntington Beach Union High and Laguna Beach Unified school districts that masks will no longer be required on their campuses, in alignment with state health agency recommendations.

A parent walks his son to class on Tuesday morning at Hope View Elementary in Huntington Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The Fountain Valley School District did not respond to requests for comment on the change or confirm whether or not it too would be aligning with the state or imposing its own regulations.

Dependent on county and labor agreements, local school districts and jurisdictions still retain the option to keep mask rules in place should they decide to. However, state, local and district officials stressed wearing masks indoors is still “strongly recommended.”

“Know your own risks,” said Dr. Clayton Chau, the director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “We’re not out of the woods yet. So we mask for the protections of the vulnerable population.”

Huntington Beach City School District Supt. Leisa Winston shared similar recommendations.

“We are asking for community support to help us get through what we hope will be the final stage of returning to normal,” Winston said in a statement. “Additionally, it is the responsibility of our students, staff, and families to continue to remain home when sick and we continue to recommend testing if one exhibits symptoms and/or if they have a known exposure to COVID-19.

“We all look forward to classrooms and interactions that help all of our students feel better connected and engaged. Thank you for your continued partnership and your resilience. This is a positive step as we move toward an endemic phase of the pandemic.”

The Ocean View School District planned a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss district plans to proceed under the new guidance and to hear from community members, though OVSD board president Gina Clayton-Tarvin said, “I think the writing on the wall tells me we’re not going to impose any restrictions or mandate than what the state has required at the time.

“In the past, we had our own mask mandate in April of 2020, two months before the state issued theirs. We’re in a totally different place in the pandemic with this illness,” she said.

Students line up for class on their first day back to campus at Lake View Elementary School.
Students line up for class on their first day back to campus at Lake View Elementary School last fall.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

At Hope View, a campus within OVSD, Brian Bruning, 51, who was holding a coffee mug imprinted with the word “Dad,” said the announcement couldn’t have come soon enough.

“Should’ve been done a long time ago,” he said.

Once cloth face masks were proven to be less effective, Bruning joked, all it did was “stop them from spitting on each other.” He added he understood if some parents still wanted their children to continue wearing masks even after the mandate lapsed.

Madeline Fugate, 30, said she sends her kindergartner to school with a KN95 mask but realizes it will come down to her daughter’s own decision and peer pressure.

“I feel parent choice is the right option,” she said.

Fugate stood along the sidewalk at Hope View with other parents who waited until their children were inside classrooms. The mask announcement was the topic of conversation among them, she said, and many of them shared her view.

Fugate explained the news to her 5-year-old Monday and said her daughter replied that she’d wear it inside but leave it off when she was outside.

“I’m proud as a parent she can make her own decisions,” Fugate said.

Marina High School students leave the campus on Wednesday, September 1.
Marina High School students leave the campus after the first day of school last fall.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Newport Beach parent Kevin Fairfax said he was comfortable with the state’s latest decision and planned to give his children the option of whether or not to wear masks.

Fairfax said he hasn’t heard about any mask fatigue from either his third-grader or his eighth-grader.

“I’ve been lucky in that I know some parents and kids have been miserable and hate [masks],” said Fairfax. “Mine have never really had that problem. They got accustomed to it. I think it’s good if we want to see if anything happens to start now as opposed to the [end of the school year] and there’s a spike; then what do you do for fall?”

Fairfax said he’s been tracking cases through the Newport-Mesa COVID-19 reporting dashboard and noticed cases have largely tapered off. He feels this is a good time to try going maskless.

“If the numbers spike, then maybe it’s too early. I don’t think they’ll spike though because the kids are doing everything now outside without masks — birthday parties, Disneyland,” said Fairfax. “I don’t know if there’ll be a big problem when it’s in the classrooms. I think it’s time to find out.”

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