Tulare schools latest to ask state for ‘local control’

Tulare elementary, high school district boards approve resolutions with phrase synonymous with asking public health officials to remove indoor masking mandates

TULARE – Tulare school districts became the latest in Tulare County to ask the state for more local control in deciding which COVID-19 safety protocols will be implemented on their campuses.

Tulare City School District, which oversees the city’s elementary schools, and Tulare Joint Union High School District approved similar resolutions last week. Both resolutions said the school boards were “committed to following the guidance and requirements” for COVID-19 safety protocols from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) but both boards said they believed “local school districts and their governing bodies should make the final determination regarding appropriate COVID-19 school safety protocols in consultation with the local public health officer.”

The only difference between the two resolutions was Tulare City added a parenthetical phrase, “in addition to understanding conditions statewide and nationally” to its request CDPH “Take into account local conditions when developing COVID-19 safety protocols for schools.”

While both resolutions mentioned masking, Tulare City board president Willard Epps said there wasn’t any particular safety protocol the school board was addressing but rather the board wanted the ability to modify state guidance if there were sweeping changes, such as the governor closing down schools again.

“We want to have the opportunity to make a decision to ensure all of our kids can continue to learn [in person],” Epps said following the Sept. 14 vote.

Tulare City Superintendent Brian Hollingshead said the district will still enforce all CDPH guidelines, including indoor masking for students and staff.

“Nothing will change,” Hollingshead said. “We’re just sending to [California Department of Education] and CDPH asking for flexibility.”

Lucy Van Scyoc, superintendent of the high school district, said her board is still committed to following the guidance and requirements of public health officials in developing COVID-19 safety protocols.

“There have been no changes in our COVID protocols,” Van Scyoc said following the Sept. 16 vote.

The “local control” resolutions began in Tulare County when the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved its resolution to support local decision making on July 20, prior to the start of school but after El Dorado and Placer counties had passed similar resolutions. The vote was the result of an impassioned plea by parents to allow their children to attend school without wearing masks, which they claimed was psychologically damaging, hindered their ability to learn and disproportionately affected English learners.

Less than a week later, a similar resolution was approved by Sundale Union Elementary School District near Tulare which said the single-school district would “encourage” all students to comply with masking guidelines but said it would not sacrifice instructional time with “enforcement actions.” This in effect, made masking voluntary. On Aug. 2, Sequoia Union School District in Lemon Cove held a special board meeting to allow parents who believe their student should be exempt from wearing a face covering to have the option of filing a Student Mask Exemption Attestation form on file with the district.

That same week, Exeter Unified School District’s board voted unanimously to pass a resolution supporting local authority over masking. The resolution stated that “local school boards and parents are the traditional and logical decision-makers for students.” It went on to say that students have been going about “normal routines” without a mask, and for that reason they should not be required to wear a mask at school.

Despite the resolution, Superintendent George Eddy said the district still had a mandate to enforce masking on campus while indoors. He said the resolution is more of an attempt to communicate to the state that districts want local control over the COVID-19 safety protocol.

On Aug. 10, Visalia Unified School District’s board approved a letter asking state officials to make indoor masking a recommendation and not a mandate. At previous meetings, Visalia Unified parents had described wearing masks for a full-day of instruction as psychologically damning, face diapers, and increasing the likelihood of immoral behavior. At its most recent meeting, one mother described the mandate as oppressive.

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