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School Board Says: No Student Masks
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Students in the Oakdale Joint Unified School District can now go maskless.

That was the decision by members of the school board, taking action at a special meeting on Monday night, Feb. 28.

With new directives issued by Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday, scaling back pandemic restrictions in several areas, the board voted 3-1 in favor of allowing students to attend school without masks.

They are still highly recommended; but as of March 1, are not being required of Oakdale students.

“School staff and adults on official business at the school sites will continue to wear masks” as required by Cal-OSHA, noted a statement released by the school district shortly after the conclusion of the special meeting.

The Feb. 28 announcement by the governor dropped the masking requirements after March 11 for schools and child care facilities, though individual school districts can also vote to continue them.

Masking of students has become a contentious item for many, with demonstrations in early February calling for an end to the masking of students and many of those choosing not to wear masks at first being separated from fellow students and then told to not attend school without a mask.

On Monday night, board members Tina Shatswell, Michael House and Larry Betschart voted in favor of unmasking the students with board member Terri Taylor casting the lone dissenting vote; board member Diane Gilbert was absent.

The resolution leaves open the ability for the district to reinstitute the mask policy if COVID numbers increase.

Public comment was heard before the board’s decision on Monday night and local community member Toby Stime thanked the board members for everything they have done but voiced his concern about ending the mask enforcement before the March 11 date announced by the governor.

Board member Taylor said she would say no to the resolution in order to stay away from any liability, preferring to wait until March 11 to enact new protocols. House voiced his choice to vote yes but said he was still conflicted and disappointed in the way it had to happen, with lingering concerns over actions some in the community took, including threats to board members and district officials over the masking situation. Shatswell stressed before the vote that the board was “not caving in” to pressure or demands from parents in lifting the mask mandate.

“Oakdale Joint Unified School District has been as responsive to community input and needs as possible. We were one of the first school districts to reopen for students. We are only one of two districts that have asked for local control of COVID-19 protocols, and we are the only district in Stanislaus County with a resolution against vaccinations,” Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Gillian Wegener noted in the district statement. “Throughout each stage of the pandemic, OJUSD has complied with COVID-19 mandates, CalOSHA guidelines, and CDPH requirements. The OJUSD Board of Trustees looks forward to the full return of local decision making authority as quickly as possible.”

Students will have the option to mask and school sites will have masks available for all that want them. Perhaps most important to those that sought the end to the mask mandate, the statement indicates:

“Students will not be excluded from a school facility, school related activities, removed from a classroom for not wearing masks.”

And, Wegener added, the resolution seeks that “all students and staff will be treated with respect and kindness.”

It was the second meeting of the board in less than a week’s time; the originally scheduled Feb. 7 meeting was postponed due to concerns over threats made during the initial mask mandate demonstrations.

The rescheduled meeting was on Tuesday, Feb. 22 and included roughly 90 minutes of public comment on the district’s COVID-19 response and masking issues, as well as brief reports on trustee areas and ongoing contract negotiations.


Leader Editor Marg Jackson contributed to this story.