County’s largest school districts to mask up

Visalia Unified, Porterville Unified announce they will be enforcing state mandates for all students and staff to wear masks while in the classroom

Tulare County – Tulare County’s largest school districts announced they will enforce state mandates for all staff and students to wear masks in classrooms when schools open for the fall semester.

Visalia Unified was the first to announce its decision on July 20. “Visalia Unified School District is committed to safely welcoming students back to school on Aug. 12, 2021, for full-day instruction while following the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidance,” Superintendent Tamara Ravalin wrote in a community alert. 

Ravalin did say masks are not required outdoors and all students will be allowed to return for full-day instruction as “social distancing in the classroom will not be required.” She went on to remind parents Visalia Unified School District is required by law to follow the CDPH regulations as the governor’s state of emergency and directives have not been lifted.

Three days later, Porterville Unified announced it would also be following the state’s masking mandates.

“As you may have seen in the news, last week the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued updated guidance related to school settings, with the largest emphasis being on the continued requirement of masking,” Superintendent Nate Nelson wrote in a released statement. “The update applies to all TK-12 schools for the 2021-2022 school year, which for Porterville Unified students.”

The announcements from both districts follow the Tulare County Board of Supervisors resolution to support local school districts in their decisions on safety protocols, parental choice in masking and seeking the assistance of state and federal government agencies and elected officials involved in “school safety protocols in returning these authorities to local school districts and their governing boards.”

The California Department of Public Health announced on July 12 schools should continue to vaccinate and encourage the vaccination of staff, provide a robust testing program and continue to require everyone on campus to wear masks. The guidance was a compromise to balance the need for as many students as possible to attend in-person instruction with the understanding that would make it impossible for most schools to provide three feet of social distancing between students.

CDPH’s announcement sent angry parents from districts throughout Tulare County to ask the Supervisors to support local school board’s if they decide to break from the mandate and not require students and staff to wear a mask. Parents claimed CDPH was out of step with the Centers for Disease Control which said masks are not required with minimum social distancing.

VUSD did say it would continue to offer online learning for students in grades TK-6 at Royal Oaks Elementary and for grades 7-8 through Visalia Charter Independent Study. Independent Study is also available for grades 9-12 through Visalia Charter Independent Study. Those interested in VUSD’s virtual learning programs may email [email protected] for more information.

“VUSD will work with students and families who are not able to wear a mask,” Ravalin stated.

PUSD also offered independent study for those students who do not quality for a mask exemption but are unwilling to wear a mask. Those interested in independent study can indicate that preference by filling out a form at PortervilleSchools.org. Anyone with questions about Porterville Unified’s independent study for the 2021-22 school year, should contact PUSD via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 559-560-5777.

“Students enrolled in independent study for the 2021-22 school year will have rights to return to their home school when they return to in-person learning,” Nelson wrote.

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