No Mask? No School for You!

No mask? No school for you. Or no in-person school, that is. My mind is conjuring images of that classic Seinfeld episode called “The Soup Nazi,” where a small take-out restaurant owner made the most delicious soup in all of Manhattan. The catch? If customers did not follow his rules and ordering guidelines, he snatched their soup in a single swoop and boldly proclaimed, “No soup for you!” This same analogy is playing out in our K-12 public schools for students who do not choose to follow the mask guidelines. Unlike a television sitcom, however, this is no laughing matter.

Let’s begin by meeting the first character in our cast: Assembly Bill (AB) 130, signed by Governor Newsom on July 9, 2021. AB 130 makes significant changes to independent study. The term “independent study” is misleading, as the requirement is really for districts to offer distance or virtual learning, such as students Zooming in from home with their assigned teacher. Prior to AB 130, school districts were generally not required to offer independent study, but now it is mandatory.

Next, we meet the California Department of Public Health (CDHP). On July 12, 2021, the CDHP released a memo called “COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools in California, 2021-22 School Year.” According to their guidance, “schools must develop and implement local protocols to enforce the mask requirements. Additionally, schools should offer alternative educational opportunities for students who are excluded from campus because they will not wear a face covering. Note: Public schools should be aware of the requirements in AB 130 to offer independent study programs for the 2021-22 school year.”

A third character now joins the scene: the California School Board Association (CSBA). On July 20, 2021, the CSBA made a statement on masking and independent study. As voiced by the CSBA, “under AB 130, if students are placed in independent study because they did not want to wear a mask in school, and subsequently fail to meet the attendance or engagement standards, the law requires that they return to in-person instruction, even though these students were barred from the classroom for their refusal to wear masks in the first place.”

The CSBA also provided the following infographic to further illustrate their concerns as which they described as, “Come to school unmasked —> Go to independent study —> Don’t ‘engage’ enough in independent study —> Go back to school unmasked —> Go back to independent study for not wearing a mask.”

What characters are missing from this narrative? Students. And parents. Students cannot attend school if they do not wear a mask and therefore must participate in independent study, which would be more appropriately renamed as virtual or distance learning. Then, if students are not engaged in independent study, they are sent back to in-person learning, only to then return to independent study – once again – for not wearing a mask. Other than independent study, the only other option for unmasked students is to attend school outside (while on campus), since masks are not required outdoors. This option, however, would be dependent on school districts offering fully outdoor classrooms.

What a nightmare. This does not sound like a sitcom at all… more like a psychological thriller, without the thrill. Although AB 130 certainly does have us poised on the edge of our seats, or on our knees, praying for our nation’s children.