Updated Guidelines for Mask Usage in K-12 Schools for the 2021-2022 School Year
On July 12, 2021, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) released its COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools in California for the 2021-22 School Year (“Health Guidance”), which is effective immediately. The Health Guidance covers among other COVID-19 safety measures, the use of masks in K-12 schools. In line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (“CDC”) July 9, 2021 mask use recommendations, the July 12, 2021, Health Guidance advises that mask use by students and staff will be optional outdoors for all K-12 settings. However, in taking a more cautious approach than the CDC, the CDPH also advises that K-12 students and staff are required to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.
In accord with the CDPH’s June 9, 2021, Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings,  the Health Guidance exempts from masking requirements individuals with medical conditions, mental health conditions, and disabilities that prevent them from wearing a mask. Also exempt are individuals who are hearing impaired, and those communicating with a hearing-impaired individual, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication. Exempt individuals must wear a non-restrictive alternative to a mask (e.g., a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge), as their condition permits. An alternative to a face covering (e.g., a face shield) can also be used when necessary for instructional purposes to communicate and assist students with special needs, so long as the wearer maintains physical distance from others.
The Health Guidance also states that in-person instruction can occur safely without minimum physical distancing requirements when other mitigation strategies (e.g., masking) are implemented. This is welcome news given difficulties created by prior distancing recommendations.
The CDPH also requires that schools develop and implement local protocols to (1) provide face coverings for students who inadvertently fail to bring one to school; and (2) enforce mask requirements. Schools are required to offer alternative opportunities for students who not exempt from wearing a mask, but who are excluded from campus for refusal to wear one. Before making the determination to exclude students from campus who struggle with using a mask (e.g., due to behavioral issues), schools should carefully consider whether mitigating measures (e.g., allowing students to step outside to take breaks from wearing a mask) can be implemented.
The CDPH will determine the need to update this Guidance by November 1, 2021.
Should you have any questions about this Alert, please contact one of the Alert’s authors or the AALRR attorney with whom you work.
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