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Teacher sickout in opposition to decision to end mask mandate closes Nevada Union High School

Some Nevada Union High School teachers pushed back against a decision by their school board to defy state mask mandates by staying home, resulting in the closure of the school on Thursday.

The school board voted Tuesday to make wearing a mask optional for students despite state law and an agreement with their teachers union that masks would be required.

In an interview with CBS13, Brett McFadden, superintendent of the Nevada Joint Union High School District in Grass Valley, said he felt forced to write the policy approved by the school board because students and parents were protesting the mask requirement, making it “untenable.”

Teachers chose to call in sick because the school board is asking them to ignore the state mask mandate, potentially putting their credentials at stake, said Eric Mayer, president of Nevada Joint Union High School Teachers Association. Certificated school staff, including administrators, can be disciplined by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing if they violate state law.

“They are put in a position by the board’s actions where they have to choose between defying the board or defying state law,” Mayer said, stressing that this was not an organized action by the union.

Mayer said the school board also bypassed the collective bargaining process by passing the resolution without an agreement with the union. Mayer said the district has a memorandum of understanding with the district that states that decisions related to Covid would be based on public health guidelines.

The state will likely drop its school mask mandate sometime after Feb. 28, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said earlier this month. State health officials are reviewing student vaccination rates, Covid case numbers, hospitalization rates and national and global trends to determine an appropriate time to drop the mandate, he said.

“I don’t understand why they would damage their trust with the collective bargaining units — with us and the classified union — days before the state is set to revise the laws,” Mayer said. “Our position isn’t about masks. Our position is about defending the collective bargaining process.”

On Wednesday the staffing shortage at Nevada Union High School resulted in a school auditorium packed with students — masked and unmasked — watching movies, according to the Nevada Union newspaper.

Nevada Joint Union High School District is one of the latest school districts to make wearing a mask in classrooms optional in defiance of a state mandate from California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Since Feb. 13, when Roseville Joint Union High School District made wearing masks optional, about a dozen other school districts have followed suit, including Clovis Unified in Fresno County, El Dorado Union High School District in El Dorado County, Wheatland Unified in Yuba County and Rancho Sante Fe School District in San Diego County.

State officials have warned that violating the state mask mandate could carry significant legal and financial risks. By violating the state requirement, districts are opening themselves up to lawsuits and could potentially lose their insurance.