While some San Jose school districts are allowing for optional masking in step with new state and public health mandates, others are still requiring them.
Almost two years after Gov. Gavin Newsom closed schools due to COVID-19, he announced indoor masking in schools would no longer be required as of March 12. Although case rates and hospitalizations are declining, he still recommends schools continue to mask. As of early March, Santa Clara County no longer requires masks indoors.
Masks will still be required in high transmission settings such as public transit, homeless shelters and correctional and health care facilities.
One of the school districts that will keep masks on is Alum Rock Union School District. Superintendent Hilaria Bauer said the district will continue the policy to keep students and employees protected, as the majority of its students are unvaccinated.
“We have been blessed with little opposition from our families,” she said, “and staff feels it is the best protection we have right now.”
San Jose Unified School District spokesperson Jennifer Maddox said the district will align with state and public health guidelines. Starting March 14, masks will no longer be required at SJUSD schools.
“Wearing a properly fitted mask will be strongly recommended, and we will support those who choose to continue to mask,” the school district said in a statement. “This updated guidance begins a transition to treating COVID like other illnesses, such as the flu.”
Although Maddox said parents and students have not made mask wearing an issue throughout the pandemic, within the last couple of weeks the district started hearing from families who wanted the policy relaxed.
“I think everyone is ready to get closer to a return to normal,” she told San José Spotlight, noting the district is unsure how many students and workers will unmask. She suspects a large number will continue to wear them.
Other school districts are still determining a timeline for updating mask policies.
Aaron Brengard, director of safety, child welfare and attendance for Evergreen School District, said the district lifted outdoor masking requirements on March 3. He said the school district is discussing plans to allow optional indoor masking.
The school district is also working to develop an innovative, site-based metric that affects masking and other mitigation strategies. It would report COVID infections to the county within 24 hours for contact tracing and dictate whether masks should be worn at each school. The district would also notify employees and families connected to the infections.
In November, the school district allowed students to unmask during sports. It had planned to make outdoor masking optional in January, but omicron changed that. Brengard said COVID cases climbed from four before break to 398 the following week.
“We’ve been waiting for an opportunity for those numbers to go down,” Brengard told San José Spotlight. “We monitored testing and our (COVID) cases are low. We are at seven for this week.”
Before making any changes, the district made certain it had a full inventory of personal protective equipment and spoke with students about the social and emotional impact of removing masks. They explained if conditions changed, masking would return.
Since the change in policy, only a small number of students have removed their masks outdoors, Brengard said, including his eighth-grade daughter. He said she likes wearing her mask as it covers her acne, and she doesn’t have to wear makeup.
At Santa Teresa High School in the East Side Union High School District, some students still choose to wear masks outdoors. Student Lily Nakagawa said she is willing to wear a mask at school.
“I don’t really mind it,” she said. “I’d rather wear a mask and stay in-person at school than have to go back to online.”
Superintendent Glenn Vander Zee said the district is implementing an optional indoor mask policy. He said while residents have advocated for masks to be optional, some students say removing them may cause anxiety.
“This will be a difficult adjustment for many because we’ve gotten used to wearing masks,” he told San José Spotlight.
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]