For the first time in three years, Ravenswood City School District students and staff won't need to wear face masks in classrooms when they return to campuses on Aug. 24.
Despite comments from two out of the five school board members that the district should keep its indoor mask mandate, at least for the first few weeks of class, the Ravenswood board directed staff on Thursday, Aug. 11, to drop the requirement. Instead, masks will be strongly recommended.
It was an overdue decision, said trustee Ana Maria Pulido. She also noted KN95 or N95 masks are the only masks that will be effective against spreading the omicron variant, otherwise wearing cloth or surgical masks is just for show.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cloth masks provide the least protection, well-fitted surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitted respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.
"I would like for our kids to go back to some level of normalcy," she said. "I don't anticipate our new normal to be wearing masks for the entirety of our lives. … I don't think we're doing the right thing for our students; it's overly cautious."
Trustees Bronwyn Alexander and Jenny Varghese Bloom supported a more conservative approach. Superintendent Gina Sudaria suggested a compromise: start with masks for one month and commit to revisiting the issue.
Vice President Tamara Sobomehin and President Mele Latu agreed with Pulido that it was time to get rid of the indoor mask mandate.
Last school year, district staff had cited elevated rates of COVID-19 in East Palo Alto, along with lower-than-county-average vaccination rates, for continuing to mandate face masks despite other neighboring districts dropping their mask mandates last spring.
The decision brings the district into alignment with state and county guidelines on mask use at schools.
The Mountain View Whisman School District is the only local school district that's kept its indoor mask mandate.
Ravenswood Teachers Union President Ronda White supported keeping the mask mandate in place.
"I would like to come back to school with the mask on and see what it looks like," she said. She said she'd like to anonymously survey teachers to gather their views on masks in classrooms.
Varghese Bloom said the district will see a surge of cases if masks come off, and would like to see 75% of students vaccinated at each school site before dropping mask mandates.
Data from March 2022 showed that only about 43% of students were vaccinated, but the district will get an update on these figures when students return to school, said strategic pandemic recovery consultant Ann Waterman Roy.
A letter to families on the new guidance is online at ravenswoodschools.org.
Watch the Ravenswood board's Aug. 11 meeting: