Education · Highlight · Visalia

Mask or maskless in the classroom? Tulare Co. lawmakers back school district decisions.

Tulare County will not push back against school districts that opt to let students return to the classroom maskless.

The Tulare County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday backing the ability for local school boards to determine their own health-safety protocols in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With state public health officials reversing themselves and granting most control over coronavirus measures to school districts after initially mandating masks, Tuesday’s resolution is a ceremonial show of support for local control. 

“There has been some confusion as to the role of the county board of supervisors,” Board Chair Amy Shuklian said. “We have no jurisdiction over the school boards. This is to show our support in the school boards being able to make those decisions for their individual districts, so we do support that.” 

However, the board effectively said, through its action, that it will not seek to punish any school districts that do not enforce COVID-19 restrictions. 

“I think this is something that is common sense that anyone and everyone can get behind regardless of political views or regions of this very diverse state that they live in,” Supervisor Pete Vander Poel said. 

“If something works better in LA, let LA school boards make that decision. If something in San Francisco works better for them, let them do that. But right here in Tulare County, I think our local school boards know best, and our parents know what’s best for our kids.” 

Several community members offered more than 30 minutes of public comment in support of the resolution, including parents and teachers. 

Ally Stout, a kindergarten teacher in Exeter, said she had difficulty teaching her students how to read with both her and the students having to wear masks. 

“I can’t depict what they’re reading. I can’t show them how to point to words and help them do hand-over hand,” Stout said. 

“I just felt like I really failed as a teacher this year because I covered my mouth with a mask and my students were covered with masks, and it was just really hard. Having this here and brought up in the agenda, I’m really excited for the year to come and really excited to tackle this year and hopefully do a much better job of teaching them how to read.” 

Following public comment, Supervisor Dennis Townsend encouraged the speakers to take their concerns directly to their respective school boards in order to see the results that they desire. 

“I think that that’s going to be great for you to get there and to advocate really strongly at that level. I think across the country that seems to be where the difference is being made right now, is at the very local level. So get out there and ask them, make that impact there,” Townsend said. 

“It’s probably harder for them as school board members to make this decision than it is for the county to make a resolution, because our resolution is essentially advocating for local control, to give it to the school boards. It doesn’t really have a lot of teeth really, but when a school board makes that decision, they have to deal directly with the state – who also provides the funding, so they can have some repercussions.”

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.