Education · Fresno

Fresno Co.-based Sierra Unified votes to ditch masks for students

The first local school district is pushing back on the continuation of mask rules for students in the classroom.

Wednesday, school board trustees for Fresno County’s Sierra Unified School District voted to nullify Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide student mask mandate in public schools.

Trustees approved a resolution stating that the district would honor “personal and parent choice with respect to whether or not children should wear face coverings while at school commencing when the state indoor mask mandate is lifted.”

The district’s resolution noted that the referenced mask mandate ended on Tuesday, Feb. 15.

Despite local media reporting to the contrary, the new mask policy is silent with regards to staff and faculty at the school district.

A lengthy debate on the resolution began when Trustee Janet Bill voiced concerns that the resolution hewed too closely to a political statement rather than a policy adjustment, prompting the Board to engage in a line-by-line review to make adjustments.

Four paragraphs in, a masked-up Bill retreated and sought to place the entire resolution up for vote, acknowledging a likely outcome.

The remainder of the Board sought to continue debate on the text of the resolution.

Among the clauses in a draft resolution stricken from the record, owing to lack of citation of evidence in drafting and desire to approve the resolution in an expedited manner, included:

“WHEREAS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that cloth masks “provide the least protection,” the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) no longer recommends cloth masks, acknowledging they are ineffective to prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the airborne viral pathogen which causes COVID-19; and

“WHEREAS, the CDC states that a surgical mask is “loose-fitting” and “does NOT provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles and is not considered respiratory protection;” and

WHEREAS, the slogan ‘your mask protects me and my mask protects you,” is obsolete given the new information regarding cloth and surgical mask efficacy, and may lead to students, teachers and staff falsely relying upon masks for protection from infection; and

WHEREAS, in light of many other states and countries ending mask mandates in the absence of evidence supporting them, SUSD no longer feels safe implementing a policy with no proven safety benchmarks; and

“WHEREAS, mask policies have shown no positive outcome on our campuses, result in constant disruption, division and behavior problems and have no long term safety studies…

WHEREAS, the burden of proof regarding mask efficacy to continue masking school-age children lies with the State and it has failed to establish the effectiveness of continued student masking with any recent peer-reviewed studies.

Trustees unanimously voted to amended the text.

They then voting 5-2, with Bill and Trustee Connie Schlaefer dissenting, to put the resolution into effect immediately upon passage rather than delay implementation to Feb. 28.

Trustees ultimately voted 4-3 to adopt the resolution with Bill, Schlaefer, and Trustee Ben Kimbler voting against the policy change.

Reid Stone is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.