Frequently Asked Questions - California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Face Covering Requirements in K-12 School Settings
Are face coverings mandatory for K-12 students when they return to school?
A: Yes. All students in K-12 schools must wear a face covering indoors regardless of vaccination status, unless exempted.
Are face coverings mandatory for K-12 staff in the school setting?
A: Yes. Staff members are required to wear a face covering indoors while in the presence of students, regardless of vaccination status, unless exempted.
Which individuals are exempt from wearing a face covering in a K-12 school setting?
A: CDPH guidance indicates the following individuals are exempt from wearing masks at all times:
- Persons younger than two years old. Very young children must not wear a mask because of the risk of suffocation.
- Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a mask. This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a mask could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a mask without assistance.
- Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
- Persons for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.
Many in the community believe schools have the ability to allow individuals to choose whether or not they wear a mask indoors at a K-12 school based on the language issued by CDPH. What discretion (if any) do districts and schools have in allowing mask choice?
A: Everyone in a K-12 school setting is expected to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Districts and schools cannot choose to make face coverings optional. Schools are required to enforce the mask mandate by developing and implementing local protocols. Schools should offer alternative educational opportunities for students who will not wear a face covering.
What orders explain why districts must follow the mandatory face covering requirement issued by the CDPH?
A: County health officials have confirmed that all school districts must comply with the guidance for schools as required by the State Public Health Officer Order of June 11, 2021, which derives its authority from Health and Safety Codes 120125, 120140, 120175,120195 and 131080 and other applicable laws. In addition, the San Diego County public health order states: “Pursuant to Health and Safety Code section 120175.5 (b), all governmental entities in the county shall continue to take necessary measures within the governmental entity’s control to ensure compliance with State and local laws, regulations, and orders related to the control of COVID-19.”
What reasoning does CDPH use to continue requiring face coverings indoors in K-12 school settings?
A: In shaping its COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools in California, 2021-22 School Year, the CDPH says its primary goal is returning all willing students to full-time in-person instruction and keeping them in school as much as possible. The two most restrictive prevention measures that were included in last year’s guidance are no longer required: physical distancing and cohort scheduling. The elimination of these measures will benefit students and families by allowing districts to provide full-time in-person instruction for every student enrolled in its schools.
With the elimination of the most restrictive prevention strategies from the guidance, California is relying on a robust testing program and the mandatory use of face coverings in indoor spaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its highly contagious variants on school campuses.
Does the indoors mask mandate for schools apply to school board meetings?
A: The K-12 school guidance does not apply to school board meetings. Board meetings are considered to be indoor public settings. People who are not fully vaccinated are required to wear masks.
How do we ensure unvaccinated individuals wear masks at board meetings?
A: Businesses, venue operators, or hosts may choose to:
- Provide information to all attendees regarding vaccination requirements and allow vaccinated individuals to self-attest that they are fully vaccinated or meet an approved masking exemption prior to entry.
- Implement vaccine verification to determine whether individuals are required to wear a mask.
- Require all patrons to wear masks.
What is the San Diego County Office of Education’s (SDCOE) role related to face coverings in schools?
A: SDCOE is here to support districts and charter schools in following state and local guidelines. It does not mandate any kind of safety measure or enforcement of those safety measures and does not have any authority to require or not require masks in schools.
What options do parents have if they do not want their child to wear a mask while at school?
A: Independent study is one option. Please contact your district or school administrator to learn more.
Can a student who refuses to wear a mask be assigned to Independent Study?
A: LEAs can assign/refer a student to Independent Study who refuses to wear a mask, but if the student and/or parent notifies the school that they do not want to proceed with Independent Study, then another alternative educational opportunity must be offered, including, but not limited to wearing a mask and returning to in-person instruction.
Is Independent Study an optional program that students cannot be assigned to involuntarily?
A: Yes. Pursuant to Ed. Code section 51747(g)(8), LEAs must include a statement in each Independent Study agreement that Independent Study is an optional educational alternative in which no pupil is required to enroll in.
Education Code also requires that students in Independent Study who do not meet participation requirements be returned to in-person instruction. If a student was placed in Independent Study because they refuse to wear a mask, what are the options if the student fails to participate as required and continues to refuse to wear a mask?
A: Ed. Code does not necessarily require students to return to in-person instruction who are not satisfactorily meeting educational progress in Independent Study. Ed. Code section 51749.5(a)(8)(B) states that if satisfactory educational progress in not being made, then an evaluation must be conducted to determine whether it is in the best interest of the pupil to remain in Independent Study or whether the pupil should be referred to an alternative program, which may include, but is not limited to, a regular school program.
If a parent refuses to sign an Independent Study contract, would simply offering the placement meet the requirement that “schools should offer alternative educational opportunities for students who are excluded from campus because they will not wear a face covering”?
A: If Independent Study is the only alternative educational opportunity offered at the school, then parents should be made aware of this and that the only two options available to the student at this time are to either wear a mask and attend in-person instruction or enroll their student in Independent Study. However, if an LEA provides additional educational opportunities outside of Independent Study, such as the option of educating unmasked students on-campus — in outdoors settings — since the guidance requires only that students remain masked while indoors, then the parent should be notified of the third option available.
Synchronous Virtual Instruction
Prior to the pandemic, Ed. Code used to include a provision that authorized schools to use synchronous virtual instruction as a form of daily attendance. That provision appears to have been removed so at least from an apportionment standpoint, students assigned to attend classes virtually in real time would not generate apportionment and would technically be absent from school. Is this correct?
A: Yes. However, providing a live streamed option in an outdoor setting may be an acceptable alternative educational opportunity. Also, Ed. Code section 51749.5(a)(4)(C) provides the minimum requirement for synchronous instruction for Independent Study. For example, although Independent Study for high school students only requires weekly live instruction, there is nothing that prohibits an Independent Study plan from including daily live instruction.
Can a student who refuses to wear a mask be assigned to synchronous instruction?
A: Yes. Two examples would be through an Independent Study plan or through live streaming class on campus in an outdoor setting.
On Campus Options
If a school decides to support these students on campus in an outdoor setting, would simply providing the students with classwork from their teachers and keeping them under the supervision of a certificated employee be enough?
A: In the instance of live streaming the classroom in an outdoor setting, supervision would be recommended.
Is the school required to provide properly authorized teachers to provide instruction? And in the case of secondary students, would that mean single subject teachers?
A: Alternative educational opportunities must still comply with other applicable curriculum, instructional, and student performance requirements.
Can a school allow a student who is not medically exempt to attend class indoors without a mask as a part of their local enforcement protocol while the school works with the student and parent to bring about compliance?
A: This would not be recommended as masks are required to be worn at all times in indoor settings.
Q: Can a school exclude a student for refusing to wear a face cover in compliance with the Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings?
A: Per the Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings, CDPH has given LEAs the discretion on how to enforce face covering requirements. In other words, CDPH is directing school officials to develop and implement a “local protocol” to enforce face covering requirements. However, when developing these “local protocols” school officials should include offerings of alternative educational opportunities to any such student who refuses to wear a face covering.
Q: How should the school document the exclusion?
A: From what we know today, districts may document this exclusion in the same manner as they documented such exclusions during the past school year (2020-21). Please note that CDPH is expected to release additional guidance and clarification on questions around enforcement. We will analyze this updated guidance once available to determine if CDPH has provided any additional insight into these specific enforcement questions.
Q: Should it be documented as a suspension, and if it is, what section of EC 48900 would be the basis of the suspension?
A: Suspension should not be an action taken by a district when enforcing their face covering requirements. Based on the current CDPH guidance, a school district’s “local protocols” should include offering an “alternative educational opportunity” to any student excluded from campus because they will not wear a face covering. Therefore, given that the basis for suspension must fit into specific provisions outlined in Ed. Code section 48900, and that current guidance requires districts to provide an “alternative educational opportunity” for such students, our recommendation at this time would be to avoid the use of suspension if a district moves forward with enforcing their local protocols to exclude students who will not wear a face covering. Please consult with your legal counsel for assistance when analyzing these considerations based upon the specific needs of your school community.