Parents protest school mask requirement at Island Union board meeting

KINGS COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Parents of Island Elementary School students organized a protest at Thursday morning's school board meeting, arguing they should have the choice to send their child to school without a mask.

A mother named Amanda also told board members that kids shouldn't be punished if they don't wear one.

"I don't want to be told that I'm going to force my child to wear a mask anymore," she said. "I have a child coming into Kindergarten and a majority of the way he speaks, people will not be able to understand if they cannot see his face."

"The board doesn't have to remove mask requirements-simply don't enforce it," parent Tommy Rhoads said. "You can leave it in place but take no action against students and families that do not comply."

But district leaders say they risk serious consequences, including loss of state and federal funding, if they don't follow the state's latest guidance requiring students to wear masks indoors.

"Masks are one of the most effective and simplest safety mitigation layers to prevent in-school transmission of COVID-19 infections and to support full time in-person instruction in K-12 schools," the California Department of Public Health said in its guidance.

Recently, Kings County has seen a sharp rise in cases of coronavirus and health officials there say infections are increasing the most among the 12-15 and 20-49 age groups.

"It's about free choice," Barbara Martin, a grandmother of Island Elementary students said. "So we're not denying anyone that feels comfortable wearing a mask. We encourage that. If you want to wear your mask, please wear your mask. But then also to respect those that do not want to wear their mask and feel that it's (not) necessary."

"It breaks my heart that this is even a situation we have to live through and our children have to be put through," Island Union Elementary School District Superintendent Charlotte Hines told Action News.

Hines says she appreciated parents' concerns and believes they understand the district's predicament.

She points out that masks won't be required outside, and there won't be any rules regarding physical distancing in the classroom.

"The guideline from the state has been that the parent would choose independent study if they chose not to mask their child," Hines said. "We really don't want that. We want the children here."

California health officials say they will continue to assess their guidance, and if necessary, make changes to mask recommendations or requirements by November 1.
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