March 2nd – PCS Public Forum on Masking Policy

Ellen Zhan (she/her), Editor In-Chief

Update 03/11/2022: Santa Cruz’s community transmission levels are now low, according to the CDC. Per a community update from the Board President and Head of School: PCS will comply with the state’s revised guidance, which no longer requires but strongly recommends masking in schools beginning the coming Monday, March 14th; the school will continue to provide masks at the front desk as well as weekly COVID-19 testing; and the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, partnered with Inspire Diagnostics, will host COVID-19 vaccine clinics on March 12 and March 19, and all eligible members of the PCS community are encouraged to participate if they have not already been vaccinated or boosted.


03/07/2022 –

Last week, on Wednesday, March 2, the PCS Board of Directors hosted a public forum on the masking policy at PCS during their monthly Zoom meeting.

For a little background, on Monday, February 28, Governor Newsom and the California Department of Health (CDPH) updated the state masking guidelines for K-12 public schools from “required” to “highly recommended” masking. This update will go into effect at 11:59 pm on March 11. However, individual schools/districts may still decide to continue universal masking and other COVID safety practices beyond those required by the state. As such, students, parents/caregivers, staff, and community members of PCS were encouraged to share their opinions on this issue during the Public Comments portion of the PCS Board of Directors’ meeting last Wednesday. Those unable to attend that meeting were invited to email a short statement to the Board Secretary, Ms. Isabel Dees, to be read aloud during Public Comment.

At 7:15 pm, parents, teachers, and students logged on to speak. Most of those who spoke live at the meeting were in favor of continuing PCS’ universal masking policy. Stronger support of a mask-optional policy came through the written statements that were read aloud. The Zoom chat was also alive with attendees adding to the pool of opinions and responding to speakers.

The forum began with a PCS parent who voiced support for optional masking. They pointed out the possible negative impact that forced mask-wearing would have on students’ mental health while acknowledging that there is minimal research on the subject. Another parent noted their student’s stress over less successful communication through their mask. The first speaker concluded by urging the Board to empower students by respecting “and [restoring] some of their autonomy”. In contrast, another parent argued that because “we wear masks primarily to help the people around us,” it would be “a great lesson for our students to get that sometimes we have to make personal sacrifices for the greater good.”

Other speakers believed the county transmission rates of COVID-19 are currently not low enough to allow for the safe removal of masks indoors. The CDC uses the colors red, yellow, and green to respectively represent high, medium, and low COVID-19 transmission. As of March 5th, Santa Cruz is in the yellow tier. As the PCS choir teacher, Ms. Alice Hughes said, “If we were in the green zone, I would shout Hooray and be the first person to want to go out and burn the masks. But that’s not where we’re at.” And PCS senior Sefi Katznelson added, “[while] the cases have gone down, I believe that we should wait until time has passed and the cases have stayed down”. Other parents pointed to multiple recent COVID-19 exposure warnings as indicators that school transmission should not be underestimated.

Acknowledging the fact that there is still community transmission, some families asserted that PCS should enact a mask-optional policy, but only for fully vaccinated students. Others agreed that we should return to a requirement if the county reached high-level transmission and adapt accordingly.

Additionally, several speakers proposed required masking indoors, but optional masking outdoors. And a few students said we should be allowed to remove masks to quickly eat a snack indoors. Moreover, those in favor of full-fledged optional masking noted the wide availability of vaccines and testing. They also pointed to the lower risk that COVID-19 poses to the young student body.

On the other side, teachers, students, and parents urged the Board and attendees to consider their siblings, parents, grandparents, and PCS’ students and teachers who are at high risk for complications. “We need to recognize that there are still members of our community for whom COVID-19 is still potentially a deadly disease,” said Ms. Lauren Friend, teacher, faculty dean, and PCS parent. And Ms. Linda Dennis highlighted, “as a Special Ed teacher of students who are immune-compromised, I really want to keep masks mandatory at PCS… please do know that [those students] are here”. Additionally, parent and pediatrician Tanya Blakeslee pointed out that there are families with children under 5 years of age who cannot access the vaccine yet.

Dr. Emily Klein, a PCS English teacher, voiced concern that releasing the mask requirement would cause some teachers and students to not come to campus, and she stressed the potential “impact [on] my colleagues’ livelihood and our children’s ability to learn well.”

However, one parent pointed out how often students and families are coming into contact with others outside of school, unmasked. “If [students] mask only in school, yet they go to Whole Foods – everything is opening up in Santa Cruz, we all know that – then we can’t really protect everyone the way that you envision the protection.” With California’s general indoor masking mandates lifted on March 1st, regardless of vaccination status, it is true that students are coming into contact with more unmasked people in public than before. Thus, that parent concluded, “I think everyone needs to be responsible for their own… safety and what’s best for their family and their household.” They emphasized that we should all maintain, “mutual respect and understanding that everyone’s family and living situation is different”.

In all, roughly 20 people spoke live at the public forum, and Board Secretary Isabel Dees read 18 emailed comments. Near the end of the meeting, the Board voted to defer the decision on PCS’ masking policy to a special board meeting at 5:30 pm this Thursday, March 10.

Said Head of School Dr. Maria Reitano, “There are several important, and at times seemingly conflicting, factors to consider regarding this issue, and I deeply appreciate that PCS is a place that values multiple perspectives and voices and that the PCS Board of Directors is deeply committed to thoughtful consideration of what’s best for our students, staff, and community.”



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