As California begins to roll back COVID-related public health measures, school districts across the state, including Hemet Unified School District (HUSD), have been announcing an end to mask mandates, even as other measures remain in effect.
The two-yearlong rolling battle with the virus has divided parents, teachers and school boards, splitting all three groups and putting school districts between the “rock” of state mandates, insurance carriers and COVID-concerned parents and teachers, and the “hard place” of opponents of masking and vaccination mandates.
Feb. 7, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that indoor mask mandates for public places except schools would expire Tuesday, Feb. 15. The exception for schools was not well received by pandemic-weary school boards across the state, with a Feb. 17 article in reporting that “most of California’s small rural districts have decided to stop disciplining or excluding students from school if they don’t comply with requests to wear masks.”
Finally, on Feb. 28, in a joint news conference with the governors of Washington and Oregon, Newsom announced that California’s school masking policy will change from “required” to “strongly recommended” beginning Saturday, March 12. HUSD Trustee Vic Scavarda (representing Idyllwild) shared a memo with the Crier from the California School Board Association clarifying that “[t]he announcement applies to students and staff, and there is no distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. In addition, as school buses serving K-12 populations are considered a school setting, masking remains required through March 11, 2022, after which time masking will be strongly recommended.”
Scavarda added that “[b]ased on this information,

wearing masks in school settings for everyone will be up to the discretion of the individual (and their parents, if they are students.) This has been a difficult two years for everyone, and I look forward to a continued path to normalcy in our schools.”
A memo HUSD sent to parents noted the challenges the district has faced and laid out the following continuing “best practices in mitigation:”
• Availability of masks for all students and staff (by request)
• Continued contact tracing and notifications for confirmed positive cases on school sites
• No-cost, take-home antigen testing for all students (while supplies last)
• Handwashing and sanitizing stations throughout all schools
• HVAC airflow and ventilation maximization
• COVID-19 Dashboard
At the HUSD trustee’s Feb. 15 meeting, Resolution 2881 was passed regarding COVID protocols and local control. The resolution offers no substantive change of rules but lays out the frustration of the board with the state’s COVID response. The list of grievances included:
The shut down for the final three months of the 2020-21 school year; nearly a year of forced “distance learning”; quarantine protocols that discriminated against students based on vaccination status; constantly changing guidance and mandates from the state; loss of staff unwilling to comply with vaccine or testing mandates; the governor announcing in 2021 that California would be the first state to require COVID-19 vaccination for all K-12 students following Food and Drug Administration approval.
The board then numbered six resolutions affirming the importance of local control, calling for vaccine exemptions for religious or personal beliefs, and stating that HUSD “shall not implement a COVID-19 vaccine requirement unless required by law.”
Scavarda summed up this needle threading neatly: “The board and the district have not advocated for any mandates that go beyond what has been required of us by state and local governments. Personally, I don’t expect that to change.”