Parents, health officials weigh in on Clovis Unified's face mask policy

CLOVIS, Calif. (KFSN) -- As school districts get set to welcome back students for in-person learning, the Clovis Unified School Board agreed to give parents a unique option for face coverings.

They can fill out a form to have their child exempt from wearing a face-covering due to physical or mental health concerns.

"The part that doesn't require a doctor's note is what I'm concerned about," says Gena Gong.

Gong has an 11-year-old who attends a CUSD school. She's concerned because her daughter and her classmates are not all eligible to be vaccinated.

She says her daughter prefers to learn in-person and was looking forward to seeing her friends again, but she feels the new exemptions are not safe for everyone.

"I'm concerned about other kids who might have medical issues at home," Gong said. "I know there's a lot of my friends who live with elderly parents or their elderly parents take care of their kids, and they don't risk passing something on to them."

But other parents say the district is doing the right thing.

"It should be the parents and the child's choice," says Sara Gray.

Gray has an 11-year-old and a 5-year-old who attend CUSD schools.

She believes children should be allowed to be in the classroom with no mask if that's what a family chooses.

"My five-year-old was in T-k last year," she said. "By the time she got home, her mask was disgusting. Why would you want your child sitting in that all day long?"

The district has spelled out the entire process of requesting a mask waiver online.

School officials say they are not requiring a doctor's note because the state health department is not requiring one.

But the Fresno County Health Department sent us a statement that says in part, "The California Department of Public Health has stated that making a medical or psychiatric diagnosis for mask exemption requires a medical examination by a trained professional."

County and state health officials say universal mask-wearing protects those who are not eligible to be vaccinated.

But CUSD spokesperson Kelly Avants says the district is taking several safety measures, including ventilation and increased sanitation. The district is offering online school and independent study as options.

"We really are looking at our entire community and all of our schools looking at the importance of layering in multiple layers of health and safety measures," she said. "The vast majority of our students will be wearing face coverings as the guidance requires."

Here is the full statement by the Fresno County Department of Public Health:

There are strong feelings on both sides of the mask debate. The Fresno County Department of Public Health has heard from Clovis parents concerned about the prospect of unvaccinated and unmasked students in full classrooms when school reopens, which will lead to greater COVID-19 exposures in classrooms and potentially force classroom and school closures due to school-based outbreaks. The California Department of Public Health has stated that making a medical or psychiatric diagnosis for mask exemption requires a medical examination by a trained professional. Similar to applications for disability placards for vehicles, and worker's compensation related medical issues, a licensed health care provider must determine whether there is a diagnosis that supports a medical, mental health or disability exemption for school masking, and ensure that this process is not being abused. Per CDPH, children and staff who are unable to wear a mask are expected to use a face shield with a drape."

CDPH- COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools in California (July 12, 2021):
o Safety Measures for K-12 Schools (Section 1 a-f: Masks)

CDPH- Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings (July 28, 2021):
o Masking Requirements
o Exemption to Masks Requirements
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