After two years of pivoting to learn from home or having to mask up in class, students at the nation’s second-largest school district were allowed to shed their face coverings in classrooms Wednesday.
The Los Angeles Unified School District — while still recommending face masks — has dropped the requirement, bringing students and staff back to a semblance of normalcy amid a pandemic that has upended learning.
The change came less than two weeks after California state officials and Los Angeles County lifted indoor masking rules for campuses, citing declining COVID-19 case numbers.
LAUSD announced it would follow suit last week, pending an OK from the teachers union.
United Teachers Los Angeles on Monday ratified an agreement to drop the masking requirement at LAUSD, with 84% of members who voted casting their votes in favor of the agreement.
“Suffice to say at this point that based on improved conditions in our community, and certainly in our school system, as a result of the proactive and courageous measures adopted by this board, have led to conditions that have allow for the significant relaxation of existing protocols,” Supt. Alberto Carvalho told the Board of Education Tuesday. “We continue to be guided by science.”
Carvalho said the district has gotten to this point thanks to the early adoption of COVID-19 safety measures.
As part of the deal with the teachers union, indoor masking will continue for staff and students at early education centers and for programs serving only students 4 years old or younger.
The union said that was a priority since COVID-19 vaccines are not yet available for children under age 5.
Weekly coronavirus testing will also continue for all staff and students through the end of the school year.
In discussing dropping the mask mandate, LAUSD officials said the availability of vaccines has “changed the game.”
“The risk of walking into school without a mask is dramatically different today because of vaccines. In addition, positivity rates are trending downwards for both L.A. County and LAUSD,” Medical Director of L.A. Unified Smita Malhotra told the board.
Malhotra said 100% of staff at LAUSD school sites are vaccinated, and 90% of students aged 12 and older are vaccinated.
Officials stressed that masks are still recommended and families can choose to keep having their children cover up.
“We’re not saying that people should not mask,” Malhotra said. “Every family must evaluate their own level of risk and comfort.”
Health experts have especially urged masking for unvaccinated people.
In L.A. County, only 30% of children between the ages of 5 and 11 are fully vaccinated, according to the county’s Department of Public Health.
Parent Adriana Felipe said her children will still be wearing masks at school.
“Since it’s optional, my kids wanted to be sure that they’re still healthy,“ Felipe said.
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