Trustees debate students, staff wearing masks outside

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Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express

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At the Oct. 7 school board meeting, Trustees had two agenda items to discuss whether to require students and staff to wear masks while outdoors during in-person learning as an included safety layer to support modified quarantine eligibility for all. 

Trustees had a deep discussion regarding whether it was right to require something that the County is currently only highly recommending.

“I feel like us taking safety measure above and beyond mandated recommendations is inappropriate,” said President Carrie Green.

Trustee Joedy Michael said he felt like a “yes vote” on a blanket decision of requiring students and community members to wear masks at football games and upcoming Homecoming events would set a precedent for all other school events.

“I’m not a fan of it being everything. I would rather we take it everything one at a time to make informed decisions as we go,” Michael said.

Winters High School Principal John Barsotti also asked Trustees to consider the fact that requiring the public to wear facial coverings at football games and outdoor events would require staff to police and enforce it. Barsotti said that while he doesn’t mind getting yelled at, he does not want to put his staff members in that stressful situation.

Trustee Kristin Trott said that although she doesn’t enjoy wearing masks either, it’s their job to make decisions for the safety and well being of students, and the strategy of asking students to wear masks outdoors was an additional layer of mitigation against the spread of the coronavirus and in making modified quarantine possible to keep youth in class.

JoAnn May, an educator at Rominger, said it does take additional work to create packets for students who are out on the full 10-day quarantine, but they are also finding they’ve had to make packets for students who are in the process of the testing after not feeling well or being identified as a close contact exposure. She noted in her experience, some students have had long waiting periods for their COVID test results to come back and she has made packets for those instances.

Trott said she felt it was the board’s job to care about students, keep them in school and to keep them healthy and requiring masks outdoors was one thing they could do to do that. She also said she didn’t think they should be discussing it every meeting and sometimes they just need to make a decision.

Green said no one was disputing that safety measure masks add as an added safety layer, but she did not believe Trustees should be mandating them.

“I don’t feel comfortable as a district going above and beyond mandated recommendations. It doesn’t sit well with me — and there’s nothing to say that we can’t exercise, as people, our free will. If you want to wear your masks, wear your mask,”

Parent Cindy Jordling was one of two public input requests who sent in an objection to having students wear masks. Superintendent Diana Jiménez read statements from Jordling and Richard Casavecchia.

In her statement, Jordling asked for further explanation on:

How exactly does outdoor masking help students increase academic, social and emotional achievement during in-person learning?

How does outdoor masking actually support mental health?

How does outdoor masking make students, staff and families feel connected?

How does outdoor masking foster social connection of students?

Jordling followed up saying if the “recommendation for universal outdoor masking is not really related to any of the above reasons, and simply makes it easier for the overworked, understaffed district to manage contract tracing and quarantine protocols.” And “if so, that should be stated, further explained and made more transparent.”

In terms of the action item 6.2 – Outdoor & Homecoming Events, Trott moved to accept the recommendations with the amendment to require masks at student-centered events. However, no other Trustees made a second and the motion was not considered.

In discussion, Green said it does not force the district to make this mandate. If a site decides it’s an added layer to enforce, admins do not need approval from the board to do so.

Green requested to know which staff member was making the recommendation to mask students and staff outside because she had concern that they were missing out on important information.

“I want to know from the staff who is recommending this. I want to hear the recommendation,” said Green.

During the meeting, no Winters JUSD staff members claimed to have made the recommendation. Although, it was said that it was coming from the school district health team.

The informational item 6.3 – Outdoor Masking For All During In-Person Learning is expected to appear back on the agenda at an upcoming Board of Trustees meeting. The informational item was an opportunity for Trustees to publicly discuss the guidelines from Yolo County Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson.

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