Diverging from nearby districts, teachers and students in the Ravenswood City School District will continue to mask up this week as the state dropped its indoor masking mandate at schools, making it optional.
School board members cited the fact the district lies in one of the cities most heavily hit by COVID-19 in the county, and vaccination rates appear to still be lagging behind nearby districts.
The school board, which will revisit its policy in two weeks, directed the staff on Thursday, March 10, to keep the mask mandate for now. Even though San Mateo County is "low" risk according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, East Palo Alto still has among the highest new case rates in the county, according to a district staff report. The district has four schools, three located in East Palo Alto and one in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park.
"One constant throughout this pandemic has been the importance of mask-wearing and how it has slowed the spread," Ravenswood Teachers Association President Ronda White told the board last week. "I hate this mask. … I cannot wait for the day that I can burn them all and throw them away, but I like being in school. ... The idea that we wouldn't have masks on and that we would possibly have a surge and go back to January. There's three months left of school."
She pointed out that in two weeks, schools will be out on spring break, and the last surge in cases was after winter break.
At the peak of the omicron surge, the district reported 120 cases in the week of Jan. 8. There were just two cases in the most recently reported numbers from Feb. 26 to March 4.
The roughly 1,500-student district joins the Mountain View Whisman School District, which will also keep requiring masks indoors, though its outdoor mandate will drop. Mountain View Whisman Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said he plans to give the school board another update at its March 24 meeting and could change the guidelines at that point. The goal of all the district's safety measures, Rudolph said, is to keep as many students in class as possible.
The Sequoia Union High School District, along with the Woodside Elementary, Portola Valley, Las Lomitas and Menlo Park City school districts, have lifted their mask mandates in the last week.
The Ravenswood district wants to give families the time to think about if they'll have their students move to independent study if masks are dropped, said Ann Waterman Roy, the district's strategic pandemic recovery consultant.
Concerns about vaccination rates
East Palo Alto's vaccination rate has grown steadily, but it is still among the lowest in the county (89.2%, as of March 8). In the district specifically, student vaccination rates are low and underreported, according to the district. Some 21.5% are fully vaccinated, with 24% partially vaccinated. Nearly half (47.9%) of the district's middle schoolers are fully vaccinated, with 52.6% partially vaccinated.
"Other districts have much higher student vaccination rates (example: 74% at Menlo Park City School District)," according to staff. The district needs to especially encourage elementary families to share their students' vaccination statuses, staff noted.
Waterman Roy said only 20% of district families reported that their students are fully vaccinated.
"I'm confident it's higher than that, but we don't know by how much," she told the board.
The district learned on Friday, March 11, that it can access the COVID-19 vaccination data through the county database, Waterman Roy said in an email.
"That was great news, since self-reporting would inevitably undercount," she said. "We are working to get access to the COVID vaccination records now, and we expect that we will have accurate vaccination rates for our students by the time we come back to the board on March 24."
(The Sequoia district reported vaccination numbers last week that staff said were acquired through the California Immunization Registry.)
Ravenswood district staff will monitor cases and vaccination rates to see that they are at safe levels, comparable to the rest of the county. The board plans to review the mask policy at the March 24 meeting.
Watch a full video of the March 10 meeting here.