When students and teachers kick off the new school year tomorrow, Aug. 10, in the Mountain View Whisman School District, masks will remain a requirement while indoors. That's a departure from most other districts in the area, which have made masking optional.
Mountain View Whisman plans to have a mask mandate in place whenever the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a "high" level of COVID-19 in the community. The CDC ranks the level of COVID-19 in each county nationwide as low, medium or high based on metrics that include the number of COVID-19 cases identified in the past seven days. Currently, Santa Clara County is listed in the "high" tier.
Even when the county is out of that tier, Mountain View Whisman still plans to require masks at individual schools if at least 10% of the student body is absent due to illness for three consecutive days, or if there are three or more COVID-19 cases in an individual classroom or other group within a two-week period during which time at least 5% of teachers and students on campus are infected with COVID-19.
There are currently no state or county rules that require wearing a mask while at school, but individual districts are allowed to implement their own policies.
Mountain View Whisman Superintendent Ayindé Rudolph said in an interview that the district has a responsibility to its students and that living with COVID-19 involves taking precautions.
"It means that in times of high transmission, we need to look at various mitigation factors that will help keep everyone safe," Rudolph said. "In this case, masking is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the disease."
Rudolph also pointed to CDC guidance that recommends wearing a mask while indoors in public settings when a county is in the high tier. Santa Clara County similarly continues to strongly recommend indoor masking.
For some parents, though, the prospect of continuing to require kids to wear masks is upsetting. Lori Brody, who has two children at Bubb Elementary School, said that at this point she believes masking should be an individual choice, not a requirement.
"COVID has now been here for two years," Brody said. "It's not going away. Let's face it – it's part of life, we have to live. We have to let our children live."
Keeping mask mandates in place instills fear in kids and inhibits their interactions with each other, Brody said, adding that we now have vaccines, treatments and greater knowledge about the virus to help protect ourselves. Both of her children have received two vaccine doses, plus a booster, Brody said.
Mountain View Whisman's decision to keep requiring masks sets it apart from many nearby districts. Neither the Los Altos School District nor the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District are requiring masks this fall. Both stopped requiring masks last spring.
Mountain View Whisman briefly removed its indoor mask mandate in late March, but reinstated it a month later when it recorded a case of on-campus transmission and kept the rule in place for the remainder of the school year.
According to Rudolph, each district has its own unique circumstances and he said that there are portions of the Mountain View Whisman attendance area that have particularly low vaccination rates. He added that the district will no longer have an on-campus, pooled testing program this year, which he said the state is no longer supporting.