With Clovis Unified schools returning for the fall on Monday, Aug. 16, the governing board announced it would be following all mandates required by the state regarding COVID-19 protocol at the Wednesday, Aug. 11 meeting.
Over the last week, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) updated mandates regarding COVID-19 protocols.
The first came on Friday, Aug. 6, when parents seeking a mask exemption for their children had to acquire a signature from a medical professional for the exemption to be approved.
Previously, parents only needed to sign the exemption for approval.
“We were required to change this exemption process,” said CUSD Board President Dr. Steven Fogg. “That authorization was given to our district and Dr. [Eimer] O’Farrell, to be within the law.”
Additionally, as of Wednesday, all teachers and school employees must be vaccinated or participate in weekly testing. Staff must show proof of complete vaccination or be tested once a week.
“Employees need to prepare to provide the district with a record of full COVID-19 vaccination or participate in weekly antigen or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests,” said Associate Superintendent School Leadership Dr. Corrine Folmer.
California is the first state in the nation to implement this requirement, and districts are required to maintain records and report results to the local health department.
The order from the CDPH will take effect on Thursday, and schools must be fully compliant by October 15.
Dr. Fogg said the mandate for employees doesn’t surprise him, given the orders required for hospitals and medical facilities.
Although Dr. Fogg disagrees that mandates are the best way to govern, CUSD would not break the law.
“Clovis Unified will continue to change as the laws change,” Dr. Fogg said. “The policy itself approved by the Board did not change, but how we implement it will.”
Dr. O’Farrell said she understands the frustration over masks but said CDPH has the law backing its decisions given the authority Gov. Gavin Newsom has under the Emergency Services Act.
“As a superintendent, I cannot and will not ask or require our 6,500 employees to break the law,” Dr. O’Farrell said.
Dr. O’Farrell continued, “I just want to make sure everybody understands that we’re not picking and choosing which laws to follow here.”
Once again, the parents in attendance expressed their frustration with the board, feeling like CUSD is reneging on the previous exemption decision made at the July 29 meeting.
During that meeting, the board approved the exemptions because the state only required parents to sign off on the exemptions at the time.
However, the board has said an updated change was a possibility as the orders coming from the state are an ongoing situation.
Both employees and parents who have filed exemptions before the change must resubmit the exemption forms with medical approval.
Several parents at the meeting said finding a doctor on short notice has been difficult.
Daniel Stockdale, a mother of a CUSD student, said she was given a list of over 50 different doctors, with many of them unavailable or not returning her calls.
“None of them have availability right now,” Stockdale said. “One back to me this morning. They don’t have availability for two months. That’s even for telemedicine calls.”
While a significant number of CUSD parents voiced their opinions at the last several meetings, only 5.5% of families submitted a mask exemption form.
Dr. O’Farrell said 95% of other families needed to be considered because they expect that CUSD will follow whatever mask exemption policy is in place while their students are enrolled.
The idea of a grace period for mask exemptions was also proposed. Still, Dr. O’Farrell said that in implementing a grace period CUSD would be reneging its commitment to those families, and outside the parameters of the law.
Dr. Fogg said parents should celebrate children being back in schools and continuing that by any means, not worrying about masks.
“I wish that we didn’t have the masks,” Dr. Fogg said. “But if I have to have my grandkids wear a mask, so they go to school full time in California, then that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to celebrate that.”