School board unanimously votes against taking action on mask mandate at meeting

The board also created rules for SB 40 petitions and discussed potential student vaccine clinics

A+photo+of+the+district+office+building+the+morning+before+Monday%2C+Aug.+24th%27s+board+meeting.+At+the+meeting%2C+the+board+discussed+gating+criteria+for+reopening.+

By Ben Wieland

A photo of the district office building the morning before Monday, Aug. 24th’s board meeting. At the meeting, the board discussed gating criteria for reopening.

Ben Wieland, Mill Valley News editor-in-chief

The school board unanimously voted to maintain the district-wide mask mandate, outlined new guidelines for SB 40 petitions against COVID-19 restrictions, and received information about potential student vaccination clinics at their meeting Monday, April 5.  

After five parents introduced complaints regarding the mask mandate on Monday, May 29, the district scheduled a hearing for Wednesday morning to hear their petition. None of the parents showed up — three withdrew their requests, and two did not respond to the district’s notice of meeting — but the district still considered the request, according to hearing officer Brian Schwanz. 

Schwanz explained the post-hearing recommendation to uphold the mandate to the board, who then voted 7-0 to uphold his decision.

“The action to mandate masks [in the Coming Back Together plan] was taken more than 30 days ago,” Schwanz said. “Per SB 40, we believe that the request is time-barred and should be denied.”

Schwanz’s recommendation stated that since the mandate was introduced in the Coming Back Together plan in July 2020, it fell outside the 30-day window for challenging restrictions specified in SB 40.

Though they did not make any changes to the blanket mandate of mask wearing at school, the district still reevaluated the policy as required by SB 40. Superintendent Frank Harwood reported that, as recommended by public health officials and the COVID advisory board, the district decided not to alter the mandate. 

When considering other options to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — mandatory vaccinations, remote learning, and hybrid learning — requiring masks is the least restrictive manner by which we can continue in-person learning.”

— superintendent Frank Harwood

“We recommend that the Board make no changes to the mask mandate at this time. Every public health organization recommends masks be worn at school, and the COVID advisory committee unanimously supports the mask mandate,” Harwood said. “When considering other options to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — mandatory vaccinations, remote learning, and hybrid learning — requiring masks is the least restrictive manner by which we can continue in-person learning.”

The decision came after a mixed response to the mask mandate during patron input; two parents spoke against the mandate, while two teachers argued in favor of it. 

One parent complained about confusing district policy regarding the mandate, claimed that her elementary school student was experiencing “segregation in school” because of their position against mask wearing, and asked the board to make masks optional.

“Why should healthy children be mandated to wear masks in school?” the parent said. “I will let you know how very disappointed I am in you as a board… I urge you to make masks optional.”

District teacher Megan Clark, on the other hand, cited her personal experience in classrooms along with the recommendations of medical experts and requested that the board make no changes to the mask mandate. 

“The use of masks is the most recommended COVID-19 mitigation strategy. In my classroom, it is impossible to seat students even three feet apart,” Clark said. “Masks are essential… the decision to remove the mask mandate would be the final straw for some staff.”

Teacher Kathy Kappes-Sum also addressed the board, sharing data from a survey of the district bargaining unit that received over 370 responses. The survey revealed that over 70 percent of teachers would not feel comfortable without the mask mandate in place; Kappes-Sum shared the responses of some anonymous teachers to the survey regarding their thoughts on the decision. 

Masks are essential… the decision to remove the mask mandate would be the final straw for some staff.”

— teacher Megan Clark

“Please stop elevating the voices of a few over the interests of students and staff. Please value and listen to your teachers,” one teacher said in their survey response. 

“I fear a decision [to remove the mask mandate] would drive some of my colleagues out of the profession altogether,” another claimed in their response. 

The request to remove the mandate was the only SB 40 request discussed at the meeting, but the board also outlined procedures for future complaints to be filed via SB 40 after consultation with their legal counsel during an executive session.

The board determined that requests for a hearing will be met within three business days of the request being filed to the board clerk. After the hearing, the hearing officer will make a recommendation regarding the challenged rule to the board of education, who will then consider whether or not to accept the officer’s recommendation within seven days. Special board meetings can be called by the board to discuss these decisions, according to these new guidelines which the board voted to unanimously approve. 

During the meeting, Harwood also addressed the potential for student vaccine clinics in the future. He said that staffing clinics in schools could be a potential issue and there are no immediate plans to offer vaccines to students, but the district is considering possibly organizing student clinics in the future.

“This is all completely voluntary, but we want to provide an opportunity [to get vaccinated] if that is something students would like to do,” Harwood said. 

The board also unanimously voted to raise the annual fee for kindergarten instructional materials to $65, matching the fees paid for other elementary-aged students. 

The next scheduled meeting is set for Monday, April 19. 

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