The state rescinded a rule Monday that called for students who refused to wear masks to be barred from campus.
California K-12 students who refuse to wear masks inside school classrooms and buildings, as required under new state rules, will be prohibited from entering their campus, and another form of education will be provided to them, according to new regulations the state released Monday.
Exceptions will be made for students with special health needs or disabilities.
The state rules build on recommendations released Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provide flexibility to states and school districts. Under the federal recommendations, for example, a school could allow vaccinated students to attend classes without masks. California is choosing to take a more strict and uniform approach, which also is possible under the federal framework.
According to the most recently collected data, 99% of responding school districts have reported that they will reopen fully for in-person instruction by the fall of 2021.
“That seems to be a safe course for ensuring that every student can come back to school in the fall,” said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who has reviewed the state health rules. “I certainly see the logic of it.”
Masks could be especially helpful in schools where physical distancing is more difficult, he added.
“That makes it more tenable that everyone can come back and everyone can be safe,” Thurmond said. “So I see this as a commonsense measure of promoting safety, but giving everyone the ability to get back.”
“There’s also the practical fact that there are students who cannot be vaccinated yet,” he said.
Only those 12 and older are currently eligible to be vaccinated. In addition, many students 12 and older, although eligible, have not been inoculated.
Here are answers to some important questions arising from Monday’s updated state rules.
Which guidelines do schools and parents have to follow — those from the state or federal government?
The state. For the CDC, the word “guidelines” refers to recommendations rather than mandates. The state guidelines released Monday include rules that schools and families must follow. And local health agencies and schools are allowed to adopt their own requirements that are more strict than what the state requires.
What if my child forgets to bring a mask to school or loses his mask? What if her mask becomes too dirty or contaminated to wear?
The school must provide masks as needed. Bus drivers, as well, are supposed to have masks available.
My child has a right to a public education. What if I don’t want my child to wear a mask?
In this situation, a school will not allow a student onto campus. The guidelines say: “Schools must exclude students from campus if they are not exempt from wearing a face covering under California Dept. of Public Health guidelines and refuse to wear one provided by the school.”
What about my child’s right to an education?
Per state rules: “Schools should offer alternative educational opportunities for students who are excluded from campus because they will not wear a face covering.”
My child has a medical situation that prevents mask-wearing. What will happen in this situation?
Those exempted from wearing a face covering due to a medical condition must wear a non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge, provided their condition permits it. Students with more severe limitations will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Will students at their desks have to remain 3 feet apart?
That is not a state requirement, although schools and school systems may choose to have a distance requirement as part of a multi-layered safety strategy.
Can schools limit students to less than a full day of in-person instruction in order to enforce physical distancing?
No. Students must have access to a full school day on campus — provided they are willing to wear masks. When a school’s preferred physical distancing is not possible, that school can rely on other safety measures, including disinfection, personal hygiene, adequate ventilation, screening for symptoms of illness and formal coronavirus testing.
If one person in a family is exposed to the coronavirus, is an entire classroom or school shut down?
The state and the CDC want to limit disruptions and have updated rules to limit when and how long students must remain quarantined.
For example, when an infected student and an unvaccinated close contact are both wearing masks, the contact may continue to attend school if that student is asymptomatic, continues to mask and undergoes at least twice weekly testing during a 10-day period.
A close contact would be a person exposed to an infected masked individual for more than 15 minutes over a 24-hour period indoors within 6 feet.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.