During the public comment portion of the Aug. 17 school board meeting, some speakers dialed in to implore the board to allow parents to choose whether to send their kids to school with or without masks. Although the meetings are currently only available to the public virtually, the group gathered outside of the board chambers and cheered each other on as they each spoke.
The mask policy was not specifically an agendized item, so the board members said they could not address the issue at length or take any action due to Brown Act provisions.
"I'm speaking tonight heavily advocating for the right for parents to choose whether or not their child is to wear a mask at school," stated one speaker, whose name was not immediately identifiable on the meeting video but said she is the parent of two LVJUSD students in fourth and seventh grade. "Right now, our city, our county, our state, our country as a whole and really even our world is so incredibly divided and it's incredibly sad."
"I certainly don't condemn those who choose to wear a mask -- everyone needs to do what they are comfortable with -- but that's just it, everyone should have the right to choose," she added.
Later in the meeting, while providing a status report on school safety protocols, deputy superintendent Chris Van Schaack doubled down on the district's stance about following the guidance of health officials.
"Our goal has been for quite a long time to open the fall with full-time school for grades TK-12 and so, that is what we intend to do," Van Schaack said. "In order to do so -- as safely and as effectively as possible -- and to stay open fully as long as we can, we are adhering to the CDC, the Alameda County Public Health Department and the California Department of Public Health."
The board had received 160 emails from parents on both sides of the debate ahead of the Aug. 17 meeting, according to district staff.
Among those who sent an email in favor of the mask mandate was City Councilmember Brittni Kiick, whose 6-year-old daughter attends Junction Avenue K-8 School. "I would like to share my appreciation for your decision to follow local guidelines to require masks for all individuals in schools," Kiick wrote.
"As a parent of young kids ineligible for vaccines, masks are the only protection they have. We know based on the data that just masking my own child is not sufficient to decreasing Covid-19 transmission. We all need to come together to protect our children," she added.
Jennifer Valentin shared similar sentiments.
"The Delta variant is wreaking havoc among the unvaccinated in the U.S. Children under 12 are not yet able to access the vaccine, leaving them especially vulnerable. Without being able to rely on the vaccine, adults must do everything possible to keep them healthy, including wearing masks," Valentin said.
"My children -- ages 5 and 6 -- understand this very straightforward concept and have no issues, whatsoever, with wearing masks at school. I cannot send them to school with other unvaccinated children without masks. Please keep our children safe," she added.
During the meeting, in public comment on non-agenda items, several of the speakers argued the belief that masks are ineffective and could cause long-term consequences on a person's health.
"The school board members need to step up or step aside if they can't advocate for our children and stop using them as political pawns to keep their paychecks coming," said another speaker, whose name was not immediately identifiable.
"It leaves me completely baffled that we have elected officials who cannot comprehend basic common sense and are actually able to sleep at night knowing they are responsible for unnecessarily harming our children physically, mentally and emotionally," she added, before claiming that she is considering removing her children from the district altogether.
Although the mask policy, specifically, was not on the board's agenda that night, one of the discussion items that followed public comment was a report and status update about school safety and health protocols.
Acknowledging those who expressed opposition to the masking requirement by phone and by email, Van Schaack said, "There's a number of folks in those emails who are calling for the board and for the district to defy the recommendations and guidance of these health agencies and I imagine a scenario in which there is a fire at one of our schools and the fire department shows up."
"The captain says to the principal, 'Sir, you're going to have to evacuate your students to the west side of the campus.' And then the principal says, 'With all due respect, Sir, I studied fire science in school and I think I understand a little bit about fire safety and I'm not going to do that,'" Van Schaack added.
He continued, "Or worse yet, perhaps we have an active-shooter situation and the police show up and they tell the principal, 'Sir, in order to keep your students safe, here's the things that you need to do,' and the principal says, 'You know what? I don't think so. I think you're overreacting. I'm going to keep the kids where they are.' To me, these sound like outrageous situations because we trust those folks to keep us safe."
Van Schaack also said that it would be "arrogant" for the board and the district to believe that they know more about public safety than those who are experts in their respective fields.
LVJUSD's first day of the 2021-22 school year began this Tuesday with full-time instruction days on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and early release on Wednesdays, reverting to its pre-pandemic schedule.