Education

Visalia Unified to press Newsom for local control over mask rules

With Gov. Gavin Newsom keeping the mask mandate in place for schools despite lifting a similar statewide mandate for adults last week, Visalia Unified School District is seeking a change. 

The Visalia Unified School District Board of Education is set to send a letter to Newsom asking for the mandate to be rescinded and to hand over control of the decision to local school officials. 

The board will vote on whether or not to tender the letter at its meeting on Tuesday. 

“The VUSD Board is disappointed by the continuing lack of leadership by you – and the California Legislature – regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on students and schools,” Board President Juan Guerrero wrote. 

“When you lifted the indoor masking requirement on February 15th, we were hopeful you would also provide guidance on the next steps for schools. Instead, you told the media this week, ‘We are in the process of transforming our public education system and moving out of this pandemic mindset, and that includes masks. That will happen. Question is when.’ It is time for that to change.” 

In the draft letter, Guerrero said COVID-19 is now in the endemic stage, and noted that local school boards have operated their districts through endemic conditions. 

“Local school boards know their communities best. Local school boards are most equipped to make decisions that support the social, emotional and physical well-being of their students. It is your responsibility, along with the California Legislature, to return local control over schools to the duly elected school boards of each community,” Guerrero wrote. 

“We respectfully request you follow through on this responsibility, provide the leadership needed from Sacramento, and return decision-making for students and schools to local school boards.” 

Visalia Unified’s approach differs from how some districts across the state have operated in regards to the mask policy. 

Locally, Fresno County’s Sierra Unified School District took matters into its own hands last week. 

The Sierra Unified Trustees voted to give personal choice to students and parents with masking, choosing to cease enforcement of Newsom’s mandate.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.