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Rosedale Union writes letter to Newsom: 'Support our parents in mask choice'

The board of the Rosedale Union School District voted unanimously in favor of a letter on Tuesday that asks Gov. Gavin Newsom to overturn the statewide mask mandate in schools and grant parents "mask choice."

"We believe in parents making decisions that provide the best outcome for their student. We have supported school choice, inter-district transfer agreements, and various options for virtual learning and independent study," the letter states. "Additionally, our goal is to support our parents in mask choice."

This followed its August meeting at which the board heard about 40 minutes of public comment that was entirely against the state's mask mandate. The mandate from the California Department of Public Health requires K-12 students and adults with them to remain masked indoors, with few exceptions.

Board President Michael Spickler said the board sought legal advice on the issue. Legal counsel stated the district has no leeway on enforcing the mandate, and that it could actually be subject to steep fines and jail time for refusing to enforce it.

The letter states that the district will remain in compliance but is seeking for the law to change.

"We will continue to follow all state guidelines and mandates; however, we are writing to ask your support of this goal and seek guidance as to how this goal can be achieved," the letter reads.

The letter was addressed to California Department of Public Health Director Tomás Aragón, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield and Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield.

The public comment that prompted the letter called into question the efficacy of masks, particularly for younger children.

Spickler said that masks and vaccines are key to preventing COVID-19. But he is against any kind of government mandate.

"I've had two friends die from COVID," he said. "But I will still stand up and say there shouldn't be a mandate."

Spickler supports the district's vaccine clinics for teachers and community members, including students. But he said he wouldn't support a mandate and doesn't believe it should even be on the table, as it has been at other districts.

"I'm for choice when it comes to putting drugs in your kids," he said. "I don't think the government should tell us to do it."

Local group Kids First Kern has been instrumental in getting the issue of masking on the agendas of local school boards. The board of the Norris School District also agreed to write a letter to the state at its Aug. 11 meeting, after parents and community members asked that the mask mandate be overturned.

Other boards, including those of Kern High, Bakersfield City and Panama-Buena Vista Union school districts, have not taken up lobbying the state against the mask mandate when parents showed up to their meetings.

However, some board members have made comments indicating their sympathy to the cause. One was Kids First Kern founder and BCSD board member Shannon Zimmerman, who spoke about masks during her board comment at August's meeting. She said she has sympathy for those who died, but said there needs to be perspective.

"Zero children have died in Kern County through this whole thing," she said.

Zimmerman, who is also a kindergarten teacher, said that both she and her students have struggled with masks. She worries about how her students will learn their phonemic lessons.

"My question to the universe is: What is the metric? When do we stop all of these mandates? When do all of these barriers go away from teaching and learning?" she said.

You can reach Emma Gallegos at 661-395-7394.