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.

Why do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the CDPH have different face covering guidelines?
A: The state (CDPH) has the authority to be stricter than the CDC and has chosen to do so with the face covering guidance. The decision/guidance is made at the state level, and counties are required to align. County health officials have the authority to be more restrictive than state guidance but have chosen to align with CDPH at this time. 

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.

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. 

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