UPDATED 3/1/22 to reflect that the state's new mask guidance for students also applies to school employees as a result of an executive order signed by Governor Newsom.
Students and staff at public and private K-12 schools in Ventura County and throughout California will no longer be required to wear masks after March 11, regardless of their vaccination status. Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration made the announcement Monday, saying COVID-19 conditions have sufficiently improved to warrant the change.
The state’s decision to lift the mask mandate for students and staff is in line with guidelines issued Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC says schools should only mandate masks when COVID cases and hospitalizations are high in the counties where they are located. Ventura County’s rates are in the medium category according to the CDC’s website.
Even after the mask mandate is lifted, state and local health officials strongly recommended students and school employees continue to wear them to help keep COVID-19 case numbers on their current downward trend. Anyone who would like to keep wearing a mask at school is encouraged to do so, and most schools will continue making masks available to students and staff.
Dr. César Morales, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools, was selected to provide a public education perspective to state decision-makers who develop the masking policies that local schools must follow. He relayed the concerns of those who feel that masks are uncomfortable for children and hinder learning. He also shared the worries of educators who feel uneasy about teaching in classrooms with unmasked students. He emphasized that the mask policy should be applied universally to all students, whether they are vaccinated or not, so no student feels singled out.
“This is a difficult issue with strongly held opinions on both sides, and I want to thank the many people who have reached out to me to share their views,” Dr. Morales said. “Because the state made masks optional in most public places earlier this month, I believe it’s appropriate that the same rules apply at schools. We are entering a new phase of the pandemic, and I am happy to see schools taking another step toward returning to normal.”
Schools are required to enforce the student mask mandate through March 11. Between now and then, parents and guardians can help prevent learning disruptions by having their students wear masks to school. Schools that lift the mandate before it’s allowed by the state risk significant liability issues and the potential loss of their insurance coverage.
Also on Monday, Governor Newsom signed an executive order updating the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) standards related to COVID-19 in the workplace. This has the effect of making masks optional for school employees after March 11, whether or not they are vaccinated.
Throughout the pandemic, schools have been among the safest places for students to be, with most virus transmission happening off-campus. In addition to encouraging the voluntary use of masks, schools will continue using other safety measures, including improved ventilation and enhanced cleaning protocols. Parents and guardians have an important role to play as well by being vigilant about keeping students home when they are sick.
For the latest information about COVID-19 and Ventura County Schools, please visit www.vcoe.org/COVID-19.