California K-12 students who refuse to wear masks will be barred from campuses

K-12 students in California who refuse to wear masks inside school buildings will be barred from campuses and offered “alternative educational opportunities,” state officials announced Monday, July 12. The exception will be for students granted exemptions, such as those whose medical condition makes it too difficult for them to keep a mask on.

“Schools must exclude students from campus if they are not exempt from wearing a face covering under (California Department of Public Health) guidelines and refuse to wear one provided by the school,” the department stated in its latest guidance for K-12 schools.

California’s latest guidance is a departure from federal guidance issued last week, in which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said teachers and students who are vaccinated don’t need to mask up indoors.

But shortly after the CDC guidance came out, California health officials said the state would follow more strict guidelines, in part because they did not want students who continue to wear masks because they aren’t vaccinated to be singled out.

“Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, said on Friday. “At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated – treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment.”

Local school districts and county health departments may also choose to apply stricter standards than the state rules.

In its Monday guidance, the state noted other reasons for continuing to require masking in schools. For one, it said, universal masking would remove the need for minimum physical distancing, thereby ensuring more desks can fit in a classroom to allow every student the opportunity to return to in-person learning full time.

It also noted other challenges, including unknowns about the Delta variant, which is more transmissible than other strains of the coronavirus, as well as difficulties with tracking people’s vaccination status and concerns that students who aren’t vaccinated will face bullying, or vice versa, depending on the attitudes of a community.

Although masking is required inside school buildings, the state said the coverings will be optional outdoors in school settings. Other guidance related to masks include:

–Individuals who are exempt from wearing a face covering because of a medical condition must wear a face shield or other “non-restrictive alternative” if their condition allows it;–Students who fail to bring a face covering should be provided one by the school; and–Schools should offer alternative educational opportunities to students banned from campus for refusing to wear a mask.

The CDPH on Monday also updated its quarantine guidance.

An unvaccinated student who was wearing a mask indoors when they came in close contact with an infected person — defined as more than 15 minutes of being within 6 feet of the infected person over a 24-hour period — may undergo a modified 10-day quarantine.

The modified quarantine means they can continue to show up to school for in-person instruction if they are asymptomatic, continue to wear their mask, undergo at least twice weekly COVID-19 testing during the 10 days and continue to quarantine for sports and other extracurricular activities at school.

California health officials said they’ll continue to monitor COVID-19 conditions and will decide by Nov. 1 whether to further update the state’s masking guidelines.

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