California Changes Course on Schools Enforcing Mask Mandate

When California told school districts they must still require masks for students and teachers indoors, the state left no room for doubt about its enforcement: If students refused, schools were to send them home.

But hours after that announcement on Monday, public health officials in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration abruptly changed course and said school districts would decide for themselves how to enforce the mask mandate.

The reversal marked a bumpy rollout of the state’s new coronavirus rules for California’s schools, which are required to resume in-person instruction for the upcoming school year. Speaking after an event in Los Angeles Tuesday, Newsom downplayed the reversal, saying enforcement of mask-wearing has “always been a local responsibility.”

“All (the Department of Public Health) did was clarify that local responsibility, which is consistent with all the prior rule-making that has been in effect on mask-wearing going back to last year,” Newsom said.

But Troy Flint, spokesman for the California School Boards Association, said the updated rule “is a huge difference in terms of how districts would operate and how the public is going to receive this guidance.”

The rules could also force districts into some tough decisions on enforcement in light of a new law Newsom signed last week. While schools are required to resume in-person instruction, the new law says schools must let students work from home if their parents or guardians say coming to school poses a health risk for them.

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