Teachers and students on Wednesday will be able to see an unaccustomed sight inside Los Angeles school district classrooms: smiles.

For the first time since the pandemic shut down campuses in March 2020, students and staff could go about a normal day inside a classroom without a face covering. Many will likely choose to continue masking, however, a strategy health officials “strongly recommend.”

The path to a mask-free day was cleared when members of the teachers union approved the new policy by a margin of 84% to 16% in results announced Monday night.

Masking decisions are now up to the families of some 450,000 students and 60,000-plus employees.

Los Angeles Unified Supt. Alberto Carvalho said it’s important to bring schooling back to normal during a Tuesday school board meeting.

“Schools are open for business within the parameters of protection that we have laid out,” Carvalho said, adding that schools are “welcoming parents and volunteers back on campus” and resuming extracurricular activities that had been suspended during the pandemic.

Parents have strong and varied feelings about masking.

“My 6-year-old daughter (kindergarten) says she will keep wearing her mask,” said Jennifer Buscher, on a Facebook site with a large following of parents and teachers. “She doesn’t want to spread germs or get the virus again (her words).”

In an email, Joel Delman said his sons will not be wearing masks “except under particular circumstances when not wearing one would make another person uncomfortable.”

“One of my sons’ teachers has commented throughout the year that she is highly immunocompromised, and he does not want to make the teacher feel in any way unsafe,” said Delman, whose children attend the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies in Mid-City.

Sarah Beth Burwick said her 5-year-old who is attending an elementary school in Encino will not be wearing a mask, and she is “most excited for him to see smiles for the first time since enrolling in school.”

The nation’s second-largest school system was one of the last among the county’s 80 school systems to move to optional masking but still managed to make the transition within seven school days of when it first became possible in L.A. County.

L.A. Unified appears to be among the few districts that had agreed to bargain over the end of masking with the teachers union.

The shift comes with one notable caveat: Some students and staff will have to remain masked.

The agreement does not apply to early education centers and other programs for the youngest children. But it does apply to early transitional kindergarten — with the apparent result that 4-year-olds in transitional kindergarten can unmask but 4-year-olds not yet in that program cannot.

Union leaders say they asked for this exception because children younger than 5 are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. The district said it accepted this union request because federal Head Start preschool programs, which are not run by L.A. Unified, also are still requiring masking.

That masking requirement drew some criticism during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

“My 3-year-old child needs speech therapy and can’t go to proper therapy because the teacher and him both need to wear a mask,” said one parent who called in. “This is not acceptable. Nor is it fair.”

Board member Jackie Goldberg responded by asking Carvalho if the student and teacher could wear a face covering with transparent plastic in that situation, making their mouths visible to each other.

Carvalho said that such a workaround would be available whenever needed.

The board meeting included a staff presentation about why optional masking was reasonably safe, with the proviso that the mandate could return if conditions warrant.

Board members and staff at the meeting continued to wear masks except for Carvalho, who started without a mask and then later put one on. The school board meeting, which was broadcast online, was closed to the public as a COVID-safety measure.





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