After a lively debate, with one board member arguing that students need to be able to return to normalcy, the Ravenswood City School District board of trustees opted on Thursday, April 14, to continue to require face masks indoors, but moved to make masks optional outdoors starting next week.
Ravenswood remains the only school district in the area with an indoor mask mandate still in place. The district's outdoor mandate will end on Monday, April 18.
After hearing that classified staff members and teachers would prefer to keep indoor masking, trustee Ana Maria Pulido said she was fine with preserving the mandate until the end of the semester.
"Our endpoint should be very, very near," she said. "I think we're a little bit delayed on this one," she said, asking what it means for COVID-19 to be part of everyday life for district students. "Are they expected to wear masks for the rest of their educational experience at Ravenswood City School District? … At what point do we stop forcing students to wear masks? So they can have that social emotional experience they so desperately need?"
About 43% of Ravenswood students are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a board presentation from the Thursday meeting. Only 27.7% of eligible district students are fully vaccinated and boosted, according to the presentation. The city of East Palo Alto's vaccination rate has grown steadily, but it is still among the lowest in San Mateo County.
Trustee Jenny Varghese Bloom, who supported keeping masks on indoors and outdoors at schools, said that she would like to see 75% of district students vaccinated (considered the threshold needed to reach herd immunity) before lifting mask mandates.
"By no means are we done with the pandemic," she said. "We are a low-income community. We are a minority community. I do not think we're threatening parents or coercing parents."
Pulido shot back that "75% is not a requirement, it's a recommendation; what happens when we don't reach that?"
Board President Mele K. Latu said that because the district doesn't have a vaccine mandate, it's hard for her to want to push to reach the 75% threshold.
"Overall, I would be OK with the strong recommendation (to mask), but if teachers/CSEA (classified staff) are saying that that's their position, I'm OK with keeping the indoor mask mandate but lifting the outdoor mask mandate."
Board Vice President Tamara Sobomehin called it a "complicated decision," but said that right now, it feels safest to keep the indoor mandate.
"I'm trying to think about this with my heart as well as my head," she explained. "I'm trying to make a good decision. I know this is emotional and I know this is heavy."
COVID cases locally
The 1,500-student Ravenswood district reported just one COVID-19 case since students returned from spring break on April 4. Ravenswood neighborhood COVID-19 case rates are now at or below the county average, with an average of 25 cases per 10,000 in the last 30 days, according to the board presentation.
This case rate has declined steadily, according to district staff. There were 35 per 10,000 on March 17, and 98 per 10,000 on March 4. This is in the low to middle range of case rates within the county, staff reported.
Nearby districts' masking rules, vaccination rates and case counts
Despite fears that case counts might increase after students returned from traveling and socializing during spring break, it appears that coronavirus transmission remains relatively low on school campuses that dropped their indoor mask mandates last month, when the state changed its guidance to schools.
As of early March, 86% of Portola Valley School District students in grades K-8 were fully vaccinated against the virus and had submitted proof of vaccination, according to the district.
At least 74% of Menlo Park City School District students were fully vaccinated as of early March, according to the district.
Some 85.8% of all students in the Sequoia Union High School District had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of March 2, according to a March 9 board meeting staff report.
Watch the meeting here: