State masking guidance causes more confusion
Changes are misaligned with independent study law and likely to face pushback in some communities
The California Department of Public Health on July 12 released updated COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools. Like guidance released July 9 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the foundational principle of the CDPH guidance is that all students should have access to safe and full-time, in-person instruction at the start of the 2021–22 school year, and that practices should be designed to minimize any missed days throughout the year. While the CDPH guidance adheres in most ways to the CDC’s, one major difference that appeared in CDC guidance released July 9 was in the rules for indoor masking. However, by July 27, the CDC reversed its guidance that fully vaccinated individuals, including students, need not wear a mask indoors and recommended universal masking in K-12 schools. Outdoor masking is optional in both guidances.

“The delta variant behaves uniquely, differently, from past strains of the virus that cause COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a press call. “Information on the delta variant from several states and other countries indicate that, in rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others.

This new science is worrisome and, unfortunately, warrants an update to our recommendations.”

Since physical distancing is not possible in many school facilities, CDPH is requiring universal masking inside all K-12 schools, noting that “masks are one of the most effective and simplest safety mitigation layers to prevent in-school transmission of COVID-19 infections and to support full-time in-person instruction.” Health officials said they expect that the mask mandate will help facilitate a full return to classrooms by encouraging parents wary of the health risks to send their children to school and by reducing the number of days lost to sickness. The state also mentioned that, in crafting the guidance, it strived for “simplicity” because a range of masking rules for different situations can create confusion and complicate enforcement.

CDPH guidance released at 3 p.m. originally stated that “schools must exclude students from campus if they are not exempt from wearing a face covering under California Dept. of Public Health guidelines and refuse to wear one provided by the school,” and that “schools should offer alternative educational opportunities for students who are excluded from campus because they will not wear a face covering.”

However, by 7:25 p.m., the department tweeted that state school guidance would be clarified to give local education officials discretion about how to enforce the mask mandate.

As of this writing, counties have once again started to require masks indoors as a result of the surging spread of the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus. Some of California’s smallest school districts told CalMatters in a July 15 article that, should the state leave enforcement to local educational agencies, they will refuse to send kids home for not wearing a mask.

Guidance inconsistent with new independent study law
The state’s stance also creates challenges for independent study. In a statement released July 19, CSBA explained the problems with implementing a viable educational alternative for students who refuse to wear a mask.
illustration showing the confusion from state masking guidance and new independent study laws
“Under Assembly Bill 130, if students are placed in independent study because they did not want to wear a mask in school, and subsequently fail to meet the attendance or engagement standards, the law requires that they return to in-person instruction, which makes little sense if these students were barred from the classroom for their refusal to wear masks in the first place. The law also fails to provide a viable instructional alternative for students in school districts and county offices that are unable to offer independent study because of fiscal, logistical or technological limitations. In addition, the legislation does not account for students who are placed in independent study but lack an adequate internet connection or device.

“District and county board members must consider how new laws will be implemented and consider the real-world impacts such laws may have, even if these impacts may not be readily visible to those who are not engaged in the daily work of serving students. The state needs to consider all the implications of its legislation and guidance and address these issues in a way that allows local educational agencies to achieve the shared goal of returning all students to the classroom safely.”

For more information on independent study requirements for the 2021–22 school year, see page 6.

CDPH changes to quarantine requirements
Schools can take advantage of a less-strict quarantine period for unvaccinated students if universal masking is in the school policy. When both the exposed party and the infected person were wearing a mask in the indoor classroom setting, unvaccinated students — even those in who were in close contact with the infected person (more than 15 minutes over a 24-hour period within 0-6 feet indoors) — may undergo a modified 10-day quarantine and continue to attend school if they are asymptomatic, continue to appropriately mask as required, undergo at least twice weekly testing during the 10-day quarantine, and continue to quarantine for all extracurricular activities at school and activities within the community setting.

The recommended quarantine period for unvaccinated close contacts who were not wearing masks during an indoor exposure is still 14 days. However, those unvaccinated contacts that remain asymptomatic may discontinue self-quarantine under some conditions.