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Denair Unified seeks clarity on COVID protocols

The Denair Unified School District, along with parents and community members, would like some clarity from local and state officials regarding COVID requirements concerning face coverings and, potentially, mandatory vaccinations for students

The Board of Trustees directed Superintendent Terry Metzger at their Dec. 14 meeting to draft and send a letter to area legislators, the governor, state and local health leaders, and state and local education officials seeking information.

The directive aims to get answers for three main topics: What are the benchmarks for removing mask mandates from schools? What conditions need to be met to eliminate universal masking in K-12 schools? When will legislators begin to debate mandatory vaccination of students, and, related to that; how will public comment be accepted and will a personal-belief exemption be allowed?

Metzger expects to have a final version of the letter ready for trustees to sign next week. It will be sent soon after and posted on the district’s website.

Masks have been required on all California campuses since some students began returning earlier this year, per guidelines by the California Department of Public Health. The district’s attorney and insurance carrier warned Denair Unified could be in legal jeopardy if it doesn’t follow the state rules.

That didn’t stop parents and community members from wanting the district to offer some resistance to the state-imposed mandates.

“It’s about government control and school districts are being held hostage,” said Marie Stucker.

“We don’t oppose those who want to wear a mask or get a vaccine, we want to make our own choices,” said Andrea Bennett.

Metzger and Board President Ray Prock Jr. reminded everyone that a vaccine mandate for students could only occur after being debated and voted on in the legislature, and then signed into law by the governor.

“We expect it to be a legislative process, not an edict from the governor, despite what he said a few months ago,” said Metzger.

Metzger said it would be up to the legislature whether to include a personal-belief exemption for parents to cite in not vaccinating their children. Those types of exemptions used to exist for other mandatory vaccinations students must have to enroll in school, but were abolished in 2015.

“We want legislators to consider how a vaccine mandate will affect in-person learning,” she said. “As it stands right now, not having a personal-belief exemption would require students to go to independent study. We know that works for some families, but not for most families.”

The superintendent ended by saying a lot of the community have stopped calling COVID a “pandemic” and began referring to the virus as “endemic,” according to her, which means COVID is here to stay like the common cold or the flu.

“It means we will be dealing with COVID for a long time,” said Metzger. “We need long-term guidance.”