Local Schools, Not Public Health, Responsible for Enforcing State Mask Mandates in Schools

Neither the Board of Supervisors nor Shasta County Public Health has jurisdiction over local schools and neither dictates school policies.

As Shasta County schools prepare to reopen, it’s schools and school districts who are responsible to enforce the mask mandate issued as part of California’s updated COVID-19 educational guidance on August 2, 2021.  

The California guidelines require masking for all staff and students inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status, but do not require social distancing at school. Quarantine guidelines have also been updated. In case of a close contact exposure in the school setting where all parties were wearing masks, students are not required to quarantine from in-person instruction unless they are experiencing symptoms or have tested positive.

The newly updated guidelines are an effort to ensure that all California children have access to full-time, in-person learning. CDPH says it’s guidance for schools aligns with CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations and is designed to reduce risk of transmission in school settings that include a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated persons. According to the CDPH, as of July 2021, almost no children in grades K-6 had been vaccinated in California and only 40% of children ages 12–17 were vaccinated. CDPH says research shows wearing masks reduces transmission enough to allow social distancing measures to be dropped in educational settings, allowing all students to return to school full time.

In Shasta County, some, including Recall Shasta, have incorrectly claimed that county supervisors or the local public health department are at least partially responsible for COVID-19 restrictions in county public schools.

Screenshot of a video released by Recall Shasta, a group working to recall three Shasta County Board of Supervisors members.

But neither the Shasta County Board of Supervisors nor Shasta County Public Health has jurisdiction over local schools or dictates or determines school policies or enforcement of mask mandates. Similarly, the Shasta County Office of Education (SCOE) has no jurisdiction over individual school districts

Instead, within Shasta County and the rest of California, COVID-19 educational policy guidelines that include requirements such as mask mandates are enforced by local school districts and schools. As California’s Department of Education emphasizes in the Guidebook for Safe Reopening of Public Schools, California state guidance serves as a set of directions to be interpreted within local school boards, also known as Local Education Agencies or LEAs:

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“The intent of this document is to be a guide for local discussion on reopening schools. It is not a ‘one-size-fits all’ document,’ rather, it is a document that honors the varied local contexts of each of our LEAs.”

Kimberly Ross, a Community Education Specialist with Shasta County Health and Human Services, confirmed for Shasta Scout that the role of local public health is limited to “one of helping schools understand state guidelines.”  Ross says if parents have questions about their individual school policies regarding COVID-19, they should contact their individual schools.

District school boards and local schools must consider state guidelines, scientific research, risk/benefit to children’s learning and health, parental wishes, access to federal funding, and insurance concerns as they determine how districts and schools will enforce California state educational guidelines, including mask requirements.

Not all California counties are accepting of California’s educational guidelines. The Orange County Board of Education announced this week that they will sue California Governor Newsom over mask mandates, according to reporting by the Ocean City Register. The same board unsuccessfully sued Newsom last year over school closures, alleging that the closures were unconstitutional and violated students rights to equal access to education. California’s Supreme Court declined to hear that case.

Locally, some parents are organizing to protest mask mandates in local schools with a “Mask Choice Rally” scheduled to occur just prior to the next meeting of the Shasta Union High School District (SUHSD) Board. An announcement for the rally references Let Them Breathe, a California-based parent group which calls itself “Pro-Science, Pro-Safety, and Pro-Smiles” and provides resources to parents working to advocate for “mask choice” for California students. Let Them Breathe has also filed a lawsuit against Newsom over mask mandates.

This Mask-Choice Rally notice was posted on the Recall Shasta Facebook page

A message posted on the SUHSD website asks students to comply with district policy and says students will not be allowed to attend classes without masks.

For more information about California’s COVID-19 Educational Guidelines and the science behind them: 

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