Doctor Verification Required for Mask Exemptions, Latest Push for Local Control

The Clovis Unified School District (CUSD) reversed course regarding mask exemption verification during a Monday, Aug. 8 news conference, following the latest California Department of Public Health (CDPH) update.

On Friday, the CDPH announced that parents wanting to get a mask exemption for a K-12 student would have to do so with a doctor’s approval stating, “any exemptions must be made by a physician, nurse practitioner, or other licensed medical professionals practicing under the license of a physician.”

The statement continues, “self-attestation and parental attestation for mask exemptions due to the aforementioned conditions do not constitute medical determinations.”

CUSD says it will now follow this protocol, and an exemption made by parents will no longer be accepted, shifting away from the decision the CUSD board made at its July 29 meeting.

“Once CDPH updated their guidance, then we had committed, and we wanted to follow the requirements for schools,” said CUSD spokesperson Kelly Avants.

At the time of the meeting, the CDPH allowed for medically-based mask exemptions, including medical, disability, hearing impaired, and mental health, with only parents needing to verify the medical conditions.

Students who cannot wear a mask must wear an alternate face covering, like a plastic shield.

Avants said 4 to 5% of parents had completed an exemption form by the Friday, Aug. 6 deadline.

Families that turned in a form were notified on Monday of the changes, and they will now have to get a doctor’s verification and resubmit the form to the district for validation.

If a parent refuses to follow or doesn’t qualify for a mask exemption, Avants said the district has alternative programs for those students like Clovis online or independent study.

With school a week away, Avants says the district will be working with parents whose children can’t be seen by a doctor before the school year, and independent study accommodations will be made available until then.

“It’s important for everyone to realize we are working our best and quickest to stay up to date with what the CDPH is requiring,” Avants said. “When there’s a confusion about that, or there’s lack of clarity, we’re immediately seeking clarification. Sometimes that takes a while.”

Continued Push for Local Control

Weeks after the CUSD board passed a resolution for local control, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors will consider supporting local school districts receiving the authority regarding COVID-19 issues at Tuesday’s meeting. 

Chairman Steve Brandau and Supervisor Buddy Mendes will present the resolution calling for state and federal agencies to “grant or return control over the conduct of in-person classroom instruction to local school districts and their governing boards.”

The resolution states that students have been greatly affected during the pandemic.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, students throughout the country have suffered substantial setbacks to their education and to their mental, social, and physical wellbeing as the result of remote learning, making the return to normal in-person instruction imperative,” the resolution states.

A passing of the resolution on Tuesday will provide CUSD with much-needed support as it continues fighting for local control since the district passed its resolution on July 29.

CUSD’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.

Additionally, it states, “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.”

In a letter written by Valley Children’s Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Todd Suntrapak addressed to CUSD, he criticized the district’s push for more local control and dismissal of guidance from local and federal agencies.

Suntrapak said comments from the board dismissing guidance from agencies are short-sighted.

“There were comments at the board meeting that guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is not useful because those organizations ‘don’t live here,’” Suntrapak wrote. “And that, similarly, the Fresno Department of Public Health doesn’t understand Clovis because ‘they are responsible for the whole.’”

Suntrapak continued, “I hope you’ll realize why I feel the urgency that you consider the risks in such short-sighted considerations.”

“A pandemic does not respect the boundary line that makes a demarcation between the city of Clovis or its school district,” Suntrapak said. “I truly believe your board did not mean to accept the flawed position that CUSD could have a separate and distinct COVID experience, carved out from the rest of Fresno County, California, or the nation.”

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.