CUSD continues mask mandate indoors - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

CUSD continues mask mandate indoors

April 29th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
CUSD continues mask mandate indoors

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Chandler Unified School District will continue requiring students to wear face masks inside classrooms for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

Shortly after Gov. Doug Ducey rescinded his statewide mask mandate in public schools but let local districts decide whether to keep it, the CUSD Governing Board met on April 21 and voted to partially continue the district’s mask requirement until at least May 31.

In a 3-2 vote, the board decided to maintain mask mandates for indoor activities and give students the option to not wear masks outside during recess or physical education classes.   

Board member Jason Olive came up with the plan as a compromise to appease the parents who wanted to continue the mask requirement and those who wished to end it.   

There are only a few weeks left in the current semester, he noted, and it doesn’t seem advisable to completely disrupt a routine that has been in place for a whole year.

“If everybody can have a little bit more patience,” Olive said, “I think we’re going to be good after the summer.”

Some parents in the community have been lobbying for CUSD to lift its mask requirements altogether and a group of them staged a small protest outside the district’s offices earlier this month, demanding masks be made optional at all times.

“This is about freedom of choice,” one parent told the school board on April 14. “I just want to make masks a choice for our kids. This is more than a mandate; this is about control.”

So far, Mesa Public Schools, Tempe Union and Scottsdale Unified have also kept their mask mandates in place. Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board was to discuss the issue on Thursday, after the SanTan Sun News deadline, and Higley Unified was to discuss masks on Monday, April 26.

In lifting his statewide order earlier last week, Ducey said, “Teachers, families and students have acted responsibly to mitigate the spread of the virus and protect one another, and our school leaders are ready to decide if masks should be required on their campuses.”

The Governor’s Office claimed its decision was in alignment with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the federal agency’s website appears to tell a different story.

The CDC plan on school safety currently states that “all schools should implement and layer prevention strategies and should prioritize universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman condemned the governor’s mask-mandate retraction, calling the decision “abrupt” and encouraged school districts to make evidence-based choices to maintain school safety.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, CUSD received an extensive amount of feedback from parents, both for and against continuing Chandler’s mask policy.

Some felt ending the mandate now was premature and felt the timing for making a sudden change in protocol was not appropriate, considering that students are about to take their final exams.

Other parents thought kids couldn’t afford to keep wearing masks any longer, for the sake of protecting their mental health.   

The May 31 deadline leaves open the possibility that summer school students will not have to wear masks at all – a possibility that drew no votes from board members Lindsay Love and Lara Bruner.

The board has given Superintendent Camille Casteel the discretion to make adjustments to its mask protocol in the coming weeks, if the community experiences a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases.

Bruner noted that the future trend of the virus still feels so unpredictable.

“I really don’t feel comfortable projecting out,” Bruner said. “Just to set a deadline for things when we don’t know what’s going to happen with numbers or recommendations, I don’t feel comfortable with that.”

Love said it is important to maintain mitigation strategies because many parents sent their kids back to school with the expectation that everyone would be required to wear a mask.

“We did make a promise to parents,” Love added. “It doesn’t seem fair to change course.”

The board’s recent decision on masks does not impact other mitigation measures – like social distancing and quarantining infected students.

CUSD presently only has about 20 active cases of COVID-19 on its campuses and the district’s infection rates have remained low for several weeks.

But board President Barbara Mozdzen said she has seen COVID-19 case numbers slowly start to increase in the district’s zip codes, suggesting to her that CUSD students are still at risk of contracting the virus out in the community.

“I have trouble saying the data justifies us being able to remove masks and say people shouldn’t be utilizing masks in school,” she said.