Just two weeks into the 2021-2022 school year, the Oakdale Joint Unified School District continues to work at making decisions expected to prove most beneficial to the student body.
As was learned in the 2020-2021 school year, in some areas there is choice, however when it comes to certain guidelines OJUSD must follow the rules and/or mandates of California Department of Public Health. That topic was discussed extensively at the first scheduled board meeting of the school year on Monday, Aug. 9.
“We want our students in school if at all possible. We know that’s where they learn the best,” OJUSD Board President Barbara Shook stated to a group of parents in attendance, “that’s where their social life is, that’s where they want to be.”
Several parents raised the question of if the all-school mask requirement was a choice of the district or a rule. Superintendent Dave Kline shared that the ruling was a mandate set by CDPH for students to attend school without all of the distancing guidelines adhered to in the previous school year.
“Per CDPH we cannot put a child into a classroom without a mask,” Kline shared with the group.
During the meeting, longtime community member and former business owner Paul Rivera presented the board with a hypothetical question. Inquiring if vaccines were to become mandated by CDPH for students, how would the board reply.
“We’re not going to speculate. I don’t think it’s appropriate that we speculate,” Kline said.
Yet several elected board members did feel compelled to address Rivera’s question and their passion on the topic quickly became known.
“I’ve got 11 grandkids in this district; it matters a lot to me. Now given a choice of a mask or don’t go to school I’m willing to take a mask,” board member Mike House said. He noted, however, that giving a shot is completely different and not something he would be in favor of for the district’s students as a mandate.
“I made the choice at this time that a mask is a minor enough imposition, albeit I hate that it’s not a parent’s choice,” he concluded.
Fellow board member Tina Shatswell echoed House’s sentiments stating, “I would resign as a board member before I would ever let them tell you or me, or any of us we’re going to vaccinate your children whether you like it or not.”
She also spoke to those parents questioning the need for masks in class.
“I just want you to know, we are fighting, we still are,” she added regarding masking.
“Our frustration level is quite high, just like the rest of you,” Board President Shook shared.
Following the meeting Superintendent Kline shared while he recognizes it may not be ideal for all or an inconvenience, he remains committed to keeping the students in as “normal” of a setting as possible.
“What I am happy about is what was given to us by the state,” Kline stated, explaining the “normalcy” of students being able to all be in the same classroom, operate as per usual with addition of a mask.
“Everybody’s back to being able to do what they want to do,” Kline continued. “So even though kids are wearing masks, our primary kids are able to gather at the carpet. They’re able to do their morning activities. They’re able to interact with each other. All those different things they’re able to do. These kids are wearing masks.”
While masks remain mandatory, OJUSD is no different than the rest of the world by way of COVID and the Delta variant remaining a threat, as well as a reality. To date a reported 19 students of the 5800-plus throughout the district have tested positive for the virus since the start of school.
“If every kid’s wearing a mask, and that’s been the case so far, and those kids are asymptomatic we have the ability to test those kids immediately,” Kline shared.
He pointed out that this is done with the permission of the parent and actually preferred that the parent be present on the school site at the time of testing.
“Their instruction time loss is minimal,” he continued, “versus the past where they would be out 10 to 14 days.”
Students that are exposed and asymptomatic and test negative continue to be tested several times during the 10 day period and are able to continue on in school. Kline shared they must however, quarantine from sports and extracurricular activities unless they are vaccinated.
“When we looked at this mask mandate, we went over it with a fine tooth comb and really identified what we could and could not do as a school district,” the superintendent said. “Once we had something in writing we knew the specifics of things.”
Additionally Kline shared he appreciated the parents and community members who attended the meeting and understands their frustration, as well as concerns.
“We as a district needed the opportunity to serve these kids in the best way we know how and that’s with all of them in the classroom,” Kline stated.