Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education
A fifth-grade student watches a lesson through a protection shield.
This article was updated on July 13 to include new guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health.

Students and school staff in California must wear masks indoors when campuses reopen regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated, state officials announced Friday, building on newly released federal guidelines on safe school reopening.

According to the state guidelines:

  • Students and staff in the state are required to continue using masks indoors in school settings, whether they are immunized or not.
  • The state will continue providing free Covid-19 testing.
  • Physical distancing in schools is not recommended “due to the obstacles it would present to California schools’ full reopening.”

California’s guidelines are stricter than those issued Friday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which say that students and teachers do not have to wear masks if they’ve been vaccinated. The state is easing up on social-distance requirements, however, saying they’re not mandatory if they prevent schools from fully reopening for in-person instruction. The state is also encouraging frequent testing and community infection monitoring as a way to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Both agencies agreed on the importance of reopening schools for in-person instruction.

“We believe that with masking and testing, we can get kids back in person to school, 100%,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services secretary. “We are so glad the CDC supports this vision.”

While children as young as 12 years old are eligible for the vaccine, the CDC has not offered guidance on how schools will know which students are vaccinated or how parents can know which teachers have been vaccinated. The age cut-off for vaccine eligibility is particularly difficult in middle schools, which include the grade levels where students are likely to turn 12.

The California Public Health Department released detailed guidance for the state’s K-12 schools on July 12. Hours after issuing the guidance, the California Department of Public Health rescinded its order for schools to send home students who refuse to wear masks indoors at schools.

The overall requirement that students and adults must wear masks inside school buildings will remain, but the new position will be that local schools can decide for themselves how to deal with noncompliant students, as they have for the past year, Alex Stack, a spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

The state guidelines strike a fair balance between safety and the need to reopen campuses, said Edgar Zazueta, senior director of policy and government relations for the Association of California School Administrators. Requiring masks can help compensate for the loss of social distancing rules, he said.

“All things considered, it’s a fair trade-off,” he said. “There will undoubtedly be many families who are upset the state is continuing the mask mandate, but other families will be relieved.”

The California Teachers Association was also supportive of the state’s guidelines, adding that schools should become community vaccination centers.

“We know this pandemic is not over, but due to the availability of vaccines and multiple safety measures put into place and practice, as well as the road map provided by today’s science-based guidance, school communities are in a good position to ensure safe in-person instruction for students this fall,” said union spokesperson Lisa Gardiner. “As CTA has said all along, learning happens best in-person, and educators want to be with their students in classrooms.”

National education leaders voiced their support of the CDC guidelines, noting that the guidelines give some flexibility to states and districts to tailor the rules to local conditions.

“Today’s guidance is grounded in both science and common sense,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “It takes what we’ve learned about Covid transmission in the last few months — from in-school learning, camps and the efficacy of vaccines — and charts a course for schools to fully reopen this fall.”

Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, called the new guidelines “a science-driven guide (to) support school district leaders in their work to ensure schools are open for in-person instruction as much as possible for the start of the 2021-22 school year.”

Meanwhile, health and education authorities are keeping a close watch on the delta variant, which is significantly more transmissible than the original Covid-19 strain and is the dominant strain in many states, including California. So far, research is scant on how, or if, the delta variant affects children, or how it could impact the reopening of schools.

“It’s fair to say there is some anxiety about it, but so far it’s not affecting planning for the return to in-person school,” Zazueta said.

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  1. Michelle Estrada 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Wrote to ask her with URI stands for. I would like to know how we can make the mandate of wearing masks in school property even stricter than it currently is. Currently, masks are only enforced while in a building, but as soon as a child or adult leave a building, the masks are no longer required. Infection rates of covid, regular upper respiratory infections, flu, etc are on the rise. I am aware, in … Read More

    Wrote to ask her with URI stands for.
    I would like to know how we can make the mandate of wearing masks in school property even stricter than it currently is. Currently, masks are only enforced while in a building, but as soon as a child or adult leave a building, the masks are no longer required. Infection rates of covid, regular upper respiratory infections, flu, etc are on the rise.

    I am aware, in the past, the Fall season sees a rise in illness, but why do we have to accept that as normal? If everyone did their part, masked up, and remained home while ill, then no one would need to suffer illness. I am so saddened to hear and see that outside classrooms, cafeterias, and offices in my child’s school, that very few mask up. My child does mask up, but with so many unmasked, their germs are accumulating in such high numbers that illness is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be.

  2. Kameron Krause 3 months ago3 months ago

    It is ridiculous to mask kids up for school. Do these people believe that these kids havent been hanging around their friends all summer? My 15 year old has. Been playing on 2 baseball teams. No ones wearing a useless mask. We never have this entire time. I've traveled the country by car 4 times. My son was with me on 2 of those trips. No masks anywhere. We escape this communist state as much … Read More

    It is ridiculous to mask kids up for school. Do these people believe that these kids havent been hanging around their friends all summer? My 15 year old has. Been playing on 2 baseball teams. No ones wearing a useless mask. We never have this entire time. I’ve traveled the country by car 4 times. My son was with me on 2 of those trips. No masks anywhere.

    We escape this communist state as much as possible. The only reason we’re here is because of his dad. When my son is 18 I’m out of here. So I go back and forth to Arizona and Texas – you know, the real United States whenever I can. Where masks aren’t required. So my son goes to the grocery store and everywhere right now no masks but when he goes to school it’ll be like prison and he will have to mask up with a useless muzzle.

  3. Al Capp 3 months ago3 months ago

    This part is perplexing, “National education leaders voiced their support of the CDC guidelines, noting that the guidelines give some flexibility to states and districts to tailor the rules to local conditions.” I live and teach in an area where COVID is not prevalent, yet my students and I have to continue to wear masks. How does this give “districts” flexibility when public school districts are bound by CDPH dictates?

  4. Jerry Jarvis 3 months ago3 months ago

    So California knows more than the CDC? Get it together California. This is ridiculous mandate for kids that are vaccinated. It’s obvious that this is being made by people that don’t have to wear masks all day. The kids need to want to go back to school to and they are not going to want to go if they have to wear masks all day. Our kids should be in school learning social skills and … Read More

    So California knows more than the CDC? Get it together California. This is ridiculous mandate for kids that are vaccinated. It’s obvious that this is being made by people that don’t have to wear masks all day. The kids need to want to go back to school to and they are not going to want to go if they have to wear masks all day. Our kids should be in school learning social skills and thriving. This is yet another example of abusive power and should be up to the kids and their parents. If they want to wear masks let them, if they don’t let them.

  5. Melanie Yevilov 3 months ago3 months ago

    Rules should be different for high school. This sends the wrong message to unvaccinated teens. Yes, they should be made to feel different. Before Covid, all students were required to be vaccinated for other diseases. Why is Covid any different? Wearing masks is unnecessary and ruins the high school experience for my fully vaccinated sons. They did not get to make friends as freshmen and their sophomore year doesn’t look much brighter. So sad and … Read More

    Rules should be different for high school. This sends the wrong message to unvaccinated teens. Yes, they should be made to feel different. Before Covid, all students were required to be vaccinated for other diseases. Why is Covid any different?

    Wearing masks is unnecessary and ruins the high school experience for my fully vaccinated sons. They did not get to make friends as freshmen and their sophomore year doesn’t look much brighter. So sad and unnecessary. It is easy to produce proof of vaccination, similar to having to produce proof of a negative Covid test.

  6. PS Day 3 months ago3 months ago

    Masks do nothing! No kidsd in masks! This is abusive! Healthcare professionals will tell you don’t wear a mask longer than 20 min, throw it away, don’t touch it your mask or face! Follow the science! Even Fauci knows masks do not stop a virus. Teachers you know there are always kids who sick & you know how to stay healthy! Stop this insanity!

    Replies

    • Al Capp 3 months ago3 months ago

      If parents kept their sick kids at home, that would help, but they don't. I had a mom who sent her kids to school knowing they tested positive for COVID. I happened to have both her kids in my classroom at different times. Guess who got COIVD over winter break? All of those kids' teachers and many family members of those teachers. We were all masked. So, you saying teachers know … Read More

      If parents kept their sick kids at home, that would help, but they don’t. I had a mom who sent her kids to school knowing they tested positive for COVID. I happened to have both her kids in my classroom at different times. Guess who got COIVD over winter break? All of those kids’ teachers and many family members of those teachers. We were all masked. So, you saying teachers know how to keep themselves healthy is kind of silly. We’re not super human.

      Parents need to keep their sick children at home, and parents need to be honest with school officials if they know their children have something nasty that can easily be passed on to others.

  7. Leah Hawkes 3 months ago3 months ago

    How are the kids going to hear the teacher properly? They should probably be the first to be able to unmask so they can do their jobs.

    Replies

    • Lytch 3 months ago3 months ago

      Masks shouldn't stop kids from hearing, but so much communication is carried out through facial expressions - and in a noisy classroom (even if it's furniture noise from 35 kids) - lip reading is important for teachers to hear student responses. And can you imagine: "Who said that!?!" "Are you smiling, there, Lytch? Was that you?" Read More

      Masks shouldn’t stop kids from hearing, but so much communication is carried out through facial expressions – and in a noisy classroom (even if it’s furniture noise from 35 kids) – lip reading is important for teachers to hear student responses.

      And can you imagine:
      “Who said that!?!”
      “Are you smiling, there, Lytch? Was that you?”

  8. Scott Rowe 3 months ago3 months ago

    Dr Ghaly is obviously not a true healthcare provider. Let’s not follow science and let’s punish our kids more with masks that don’t even work. Let’s all say no to this insane mandate. No no no!!!

  9. Irene G. 3 months ago3 months ago

    I don’t think it is good for kids to wear a mask 8 hours everyday. Especially elementary students. People are thinking that schools are safe only because the teachers are vaccinated. But what about that parents who are not and they don’t want to get the vaccine? They can spread the virus to their kids too.

  10. Stop the Insanity 3 months ago3 months ago

    Schools should become community vaccination centers? Are you out of your mind? The age of medical consent is 12 and now you want to introduce medical procedures, of which we have no way to know the long term ramifications, on the school campus where malleable minds are subjected to external pressure from peers and administrators? This is insane.

  11. Miriam 3 months ago3 months ago

    What are the expectations for special education students in pre-K -12 who are not able to wear a mask? How do we support them and other students not wearing mask?

  12. Scott 3 months ago3 months ago

    CTA needs to do their job and start representing paying members. Absolutely no way a vaccinated teacher should be mandated to wear a mask. Zero science to back it up.

    Replies

    • Laurie Baron 3 months ago3 months ago

      I completely agree! This mandate is unconscionable. It is more about control than anything else. Infuriating to know that our union dues fund this corruption and manipulation.

  13. miracle balsitis 3 months ago3 months ago

    California should fully embrace the CDC recommendations and allow vaccinated students to go unmasked. What is the point of being vaccinated for students if there are no benefits? We know that children are at low risk of severe disease. Encourage vaccination by providing benefits to students who vaccinate. How ridiculous!

  14. Donny Terranove 3 months ago3 months ago

    I am a HS teacher in Orange County. This article examines the “balanced” approach, yet leaves out the social-emotion damage caused by wearing a mask for 8 hours per day. The writer also leaves out the hypocrisy of motivating teachers and students to get vaccinated (like me) so they do not have to wear a mask – only to have the “rug pulled” out on them.

  15. Aaron 3 months ago3 months ago

    Knew it was going to happen this way, bait and switch.

    No matter if vaccinated or not, mask up, even though 3 feet of space between desks, locked in room without enough proper ventilation.

    Many states have been open for many months mask-free, yet no spikes in positive cases or deaths. Wonder why?

    If it were true the media would have a field day with another crisis to latch onto.

  16. JudiAU 3 months ago3 months ago

    Staff and teachers working on campus should be vaccinated. And if so, should have an option to be masked or mask-free. If they chose to be unvaccinated, they work off site if there is space or find another job.

    Students should be allowed to be mask-free if vaccinated. When the vaccine has full approval, it should be required.