CHICO — All Chico Unified School District schools will reopen full-time and in-person for the first time since 2019 after the school board approved the fall reopening plan.
The board of trustees passed the CUSD reopening plan 4-1 during Wednesday’s school board meeting.
The motion, which was made by trustee Kathleen Kaiser, also includes the option for medical exemptions to wearing masks and it also solidifies an Aug. 4 school board meeting that will allow for more discussion on the masking requirements inside classrooms. Since the state guidelines were recently released, the board wanted to schedule another meeting in case guidelines are revised or clarified before the start of school.
The requirement of masks inside the classroom, which has been a topic of debate statewide, continued during Wednesday’s meeting. The California Department of Public Health has said in its school guidance that masks are required indoors for all students.
Trustee Matt Tennis voted against the reopening plan since it included language that requires all students to wear masks indoors.
“It looks like we’re going to enforce full masking. I don’t like that. I don’t agree with it,” Tennis said.
Tennis made a motion, that was seconded by trustee Caitlin Dalby, to approve the district’s reopening plan but strike out the face-covering language until possible updated guidance is released. The motion failed 3-2.
During the public comment portion, several parents were in support of abandoning masks inside the classroom. One parent stated that children aren’t in danger of the virus.
However, a couple of speakers did voice their support for keeping masks.
One student, an incoming junior at Chico High, said she didn’t feel like masks hindered learning. Another speaker said masks should become a choice once everyone, including younger children, can be vaccinated.
Jay Marchant, assistant superintendent of Education Services, pointed out that the biggest misunderstanding about the state guidance is that mask enforcement is not a matter of “if” they will be enforced, but “how” they will be enforced.
Though the reopening plan was approved, the enforcement of masks could still change since the board also approved sending a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking for local control on mask enforcement. The motion, which was made by Tennis, passed 3-2 with trustees Kaiser and Eileen Robinson voting against.
Dalby said she was in support of sending the letter because the “push and pull and flip-flopping” at the state level have made it difficult to set policy.
“Rural communities do really get a really bad deal because of the state flip-flopping,” Dalby said.
CUSD Superintendent Kelly Staley said the purpose of the letter is to emphasize that the COVID-19 situation may be different in Chico and that a one-size fits all guidance might not fit well with more rural school districts. Other school districts, such as Durham Unified and Orland Unified, have sent a similar letter to the state.
“It’s saying what happens in Bangor or Durham or Chico is oftentimes very different in LA Unified or San Diego,” Staley said. “The policy is set for the big dogs. It doesn’t take into consideration the rural communities.”
Kaiser and Robinson voted against the letter because of concerns over liability.
“I want medical experts to make the decision on the guidelines we’re supposed to follow,” Robinson said. “We’re leaving ourselves open to what if we get it wrong?”
The district operated in the a.m./p.m. model for the majority of the 2020-21 school year.
The a.m./p.m. modified traditional schedule would only be used if it was mandated by the state, Staley emphasized.
Many parents in attendance were part of an ‘Unmask our Kids” rally that was held by the Chico Parents of In-Person Learning group prior to the meeting.
Sheila Groch, a parent of two, attended the rally to voice that she’s against requiring masks for students inside the classroom and wants the school environment to mirror what it was like pre-COVID.
“They need to be back in the environment that’s right for them and that’s full time in school without masks,” Groch said.
Groch said she has concerns for her daughter, who is starting kindergarten.
“She’s trying to learn all the basic functions of social cues and learning how to read a situation and you can’t do that behind a mask,” Groch said.
During the rally, petitions to recall four of the five school board members were also handed out.
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