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Parent group asks KHSD to fight back against California's mask mandate

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The Kern High School District Offices on Sundale Avenue in Bakersfield.

A group of parents and community members fighting back against the state’s mask mandates in schools took their cause to the Kern High School District’s Monday night meeting.

In July, the California Department of Public Health released guidance mandating masking indoors at schools. Since then, the parent advocacy group Kids First Kern has been organizing to encourage Kern County’s districts to push back against the rule.

Sharon Boren, co-president of the group, asked the superintendent and board members to lobby the state with a resolution allowing local school districts to choose how to enforce the mask mandate.

The letter shared with the board was a template created by the statewide advocacy group Let Them Breathe. It asks for the school district to pass a policy that “removes the stigma of masks by not punishing children for non-compliance and allowing students to choose whether to wear a mask.” It states that “students deserve a school year free from unscientific and punitive restrictions.”

Boren wants her son in KHSD to be able to attend school without a mask in fall, but she said the issue of masking in schools also points to Kern County needing more say in its decisions over the state.

“We are different than San Francisco, we are different from L.A., we are different than any other community,” she said. “We are our own community, and we need local control.”

Boren noted some other California districts have lobbied the state to allow them to not enforce the mask mandate: Clovis Unified, Poway Unified, Carlsbad Unified and Vista Unified.

Kids First Kern has asked its members to put “mask choice” as an item on school board agendas, which gives trustees the opportunity to discuss the item. Trustees are typically not allowed to address items in public comment because they haven’t been properly noticed under the Brown Act.

But neither trustees nor administrators took the agenda item on Monday night as an opportunity to comment directly on the proposal by Kids First Kern.

Since CDPH released its guidelines last month, groups of parents around the state have been pushing their own school districts to lobby the state to relax the rule or to flout the rule altogether. Many of these groups, including Let Them Breathe, are associated with efforts to hasten the reopening of schools during 2020-21.

The mask mandate was mentioned during other parts of the meeting. Like other districts in the county, KHSD administrators stated that they planned to enforce the mask mandate during their presentation on the upcoming fall semester.

The resolution by Kids First Kern was criticized in passing by other members of the public who were there to comment on other issues.

Anthony Fuentes, a teacher at Foothill High School, who came to speak in support of ethnic studies, also said he was uncomfortable being in a room with so many people who had ignored the sign asking the public to mask up for the meeting.

“It’s very disturbing to me that we’re going to have our students following certain rules that are enforced for the greater community, and there are a lot of people in here not wearing masks,” Fuentes said.

Coronavirus Cases widget

  • Positive Cases Among Kern Residents: 159,023

  • Deaths: 1,841

  • Recovered and Presumed Recovered Residents: 151,858 

  • Percentage of all cases that are unvaccinated: 91.90

  • Percentage of all hospitalizations that are unvaccinated: 92.54

  • Source: Kern County Public Health Services Department

Updated: 12/7/21