CUSD Allowing Mask Exemptions for Students

Clovis Unified School District (CUSD) parents now have the option to seek a mask exemption for their children following a governing board decision on Thursday, July 29.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) allows for medically-based mask exemptions without verification, with parents and staff having to fill out a form stating reasons for an exemption. 

Exemptions include medical, disability, hearing impaired, and mental health. Mental health is a recent addition to the exemption list for the upcoming school year. 

Among many parents who have presented to the board in the past few weeks, mental health is the basis for their arguments on eliminating mask mandates. 

In California, students are still required to wear masks, and an approved medical exemption is needed for a student to be maskless, not based on political views or beliefs.

CUSD Board President Dr. Steven Fogg hopes that parents will fill out the exemption forms truthfully and not seek an exemption simply because they refuse to have their children wear masks.

“I’m hoping we don’t have parents say, ‘The reason is I just don’t want them to wear it,’” Dr. Fogg said. “I’d be disappointed if those are the reasons.”

Dr. Fogg said refusing masking based on political views or disagreement with the government isn’t going to fly, and he doesn’t support that reasoning.

“I’m hoping that the people don’t use this mask exemption to sign it just because they don’t want to wear a mask,” Dr. Fogg said. “I don’t think that’s what it’s designed for.”

He doesn’t expect many kids needing an exemption and a smaller number of students who will qualify for exemptions.

Parents Against Masks

CUSD parents once again filled the board room challenging masking mandates, with some attempting to persuade the board to side against masks.

Many parents cited several hindrances masking causes, including breathing, speaking, hearing, and social interaction.

One mother, Jennifer Inman, said masks were dangerous for her child while challenging a group of medical professionals who presented to the board earlier in support of masking.

“I don’t need a study to tell me that masks are dangerous for my child. Masks don’t always mean safe and healthy,” Inman said. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but doctors are not always right.”

She informed the board she would not be signing an exemption, and on the first day of school, her child would be on campus without a mask. Also saying she doesn’t have the means for private school or time for independent learning.

Inman asked what would happen to her child if they showed up to school without a mask. Her child’s school told her she could go to jail for her child’s truancy if they didn’t attend.

“A truancy officer would come to my house and take me to jail,” Inman said. “I don’t know what the other options are. I prefer not to go to jail, but if that’s where this takes me, then here we are.”

CUSD Superintendent Dr. Eimer O’Farrell said that the masking situation is ongoing even with the board’s decision. 

Dr. O’Farrell cautions that CDPH could change the terms of the exemption and force schools to require a medical verification for mask exemptions soon.

“I’ve heard parents say, depending on the outcome of tonight’s meeting, some parents will be making decisions about whether they will continue with the enrollment of their children in Clovis Unified or take them out,” Dr. O’Farrell said.

She is concerned about the parent’s understanding of the possibility of changes the board could make in the near future.

Local Control

CUSD continues its push for local control regarding COVID-19 decisions by passing a resolution advocating for allowing the district to be the decision-makers.

Thursday’s resolution states the district has already undertaken a substantial effort in lowering the risk posed by COVID-19, pointing toward overhauling the HVAC systems at district sites and implementing effective cleaning and disinfection protocols.

The resolution continues by saying, “face coverings have adverse impacts on students” and “hampers the ability of students to communicate and interpret the expression of their peers, negatively impacting their socialization and mental health.”

Regarding hindrances, the resolution also states requiring teachers to cover their face hinders their ability to create and foster a connection with students.

Dr. Pat McMillan, a medical professional at UCSF, supported students wearing masks and questioned CUSD’s want for local control.

“I don’t have young kids anymore, but if I did, I’d want them to have the most stringent regulations,” Dr. McMillan said. “I’d want them to be in masks and to follow the science, not necessarily the local school board.”

Dr. McMillan continued. “It’s just hard for me to understand why we wouldn’t just go with the best minds in our country.”

Anthony De Leon is a journalist who started his career in 2017, covering sports for the Fresno City College Rampage, earning his Associate Degree in the process. He then moved on to Fresno State, working for The Collegian serving as Sports Editor, Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in print journalism. In August, he will begin attending Reynold’s School of Journalism Master’s program at the University of Nevada, Reno.