Updated March 10, 2022
Masks are staying on in Sacramento City Unified School District classrooms — for now.
California will move from requiring to strongly recommending masks in K-12 classrooms on March 12. But SCUSD announced Wednesday that it would not be removing its indoor mask mandate until Sacramento County reached a “low” level of community transmission — as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and stayed there for four consecutive weeks.
The policy, SCUSD health services director Victoria Flores said, is based on the district’s previous restriction on extracurricular activities and field trips.
“We did a similar thing where we said, ‘If we hit this metric for two weeks, then we will lift that,’” she said. “We’re really just following that kind of consistent pattern that we’ve had of … responding to changing conditions.”
Currently, Sacramento County is at a “low” community transmission level, according to the CDC’s COVID-19 County Check Tool. The data in the tool was last updated March 10. When the district’s decision was first announced, the county was at a “medium” community transmission level.
Per the policy, the earliest students and staff could come back to classes without needing a mask would be April 18, after the district’s spring break. That’s assuming Sacramento County stays at a “low” community transmission level for the next four weeks.
“It is encouraging that COVID transmission rates appear to be declining,” Christina Pritchett, president of the district’s board of education, said in the district’s press release. “The ongoing COVID mitigation efforts implemented at our school sites will help this trend to continue.”
The community levels, defined by the CDC, take into account COVID-19 hospitalizations, cases and percentage of staffed inpatient beds in week-long increments.
A county has a “low” community transmission level if it has fewer than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past 7 days, less than 10 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the past 7 days and has less than 10% of its inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients (taken as a 7-day average).
The district said it will continue to provide a variety of COVID-19 preventative measures, including COVID-19 testing at all school sites, offering COVID-19 vaccine clinics, distributing at-home COVID-19 tests before spring break and making masks readily available.
Superintendent Jorge Aguilar said SCUSD will also plan to stock a “large inventory of masks” in order to prepare for wide distribution in the future if-needed.
The new masking policy also addresses scenarios where, even if the initial metric to lift the mandate is met, the district could return to indoor masking:
- The county returning to a “high” community transmission level, as defined by the CDC, means the mandate is automatically reinstated.
- If state or local public health orders require masking, the district will adopt that guidance.
- If the county returns to a “medium” community transmission level – its current level based on CDC guidelines – the district will consider re-establishing the indoor masking requirement based on global, national and local trends.
SCUSD is an outlier among several other Sacramento County K-12 districts. Folsom Cordova, Twin Rivers, San Juan Unified, Elk Grove Unified and Natomas Unified are all following the state’s lead in lifting the indoor mask mandate in K-12 schools on March 12.
Flores said she thinks SCUSD has always taken a “rather cautious approach,” and that the past two years of pandemic preparation have underscored that this is a “deeply personal and somewhat emotional issue for a lot of families.”
“We cannot forecast what might be coming, but we can just move a little cautiously and thoughtfully, and really wanting our community to know that, if we are able to lift this requirement, we still encourage and will make available masking and support those choices for our families,” she said.
Still, SCUSD isn’t the only local district where masks will still be an indoor fixture. Davis Joint Unified announced March 3 it would be keeping its indoor mask mandate until April 11, when classes returned from school break.
“This date was chosen to provide students and staff time to make health-related decisions, prepare for the changing policy and protect against a possible COVID-19 surge following spring break,” DJUSD officials wrote in a press release. “The new guideline applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff.”
At SCUSD, along with the indoor mask mandate being extended, the district pushed its deadline for students to report proof of full vaccination or sign up for routine COVID-19 testing back to June, once the school year ends.
Currently, SCUSD reports 93.85% of students have submitted their vaccination proof or signed up for COVID-19 testing.
“The board will take it up in June,” SCUSD spokesperson Alexander Goldberg said via email. “The state’s [mandate] isn’t guaranteed to start on July 1 so we will either align with theirs if it does for 2022-23 or enforce our own if state doesn’t begin until the year after next.”
David Fisher, president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, said he wasn’t surprised SCUSD pushed back its vaccine mandate for students due to staffing capacity.
“Everybody’s experiencing … a sort of collective staffing shortage based on conditions around COVID, and also a teacher shortage,” he said. “There is the issue of not planning ahead. We knew going into this school year, just based on just anecdotal evidence … there was going to be substantial numbers of families who were not going to be comfortable coming back to in-person instruction.”
Fisher said — and the district confirmed in its March 9 press release — that the district didn’t have enough staff to enroll the over 2,000 students who didn’t comply with the mandate into independent study.
Meanwhile, district staff are still subject to the vaccine mandate and must submit proof of full vaccination or an approved exemption before March 11. As of March 9, per the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, 28 of the district’s 4,914 staff members are unvaccinated.
This district said that staff who don't submit proof of vaccination or exemption documentation before the deadline will be sent letters placing them on unpaid leave starting March 14.
Mike Hagerty contributed reporting.
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