On Monday, July 12, 2021, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) issued updated K-12 school guidance for the 2021-22 school year, which establishes both required and recommended health and safety protocols for the coming school year. In addition, the California Department of Education (“CDE”) reminded schools that a condition of receiving their American Rescue Plan ESSER III funds is for each school to prepare and post an LEA Plan for the Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services (“SRIPICS”). With this new guidance, schools now have different rules that will need to be incorporated into reopening plans for the 2021-22 school year.
One of the most notable of these matters, contained in the CDPH guidance, is the requirement that all students and adult staff must wear masks while indoors at school facilities—whether vaccinated or not.
Please note that CDPH’s guidance initially mandated that any student refusing to wear a mask indoors must be excluded from school, but that position was quickly overturned a few hours after publication. Under the revised guidance, schools have been given the authority to enforce the universal masking mandate. However, if students are excluded from campus for refusing to wear a mask, they must be offered alternative educational opportunities.
Thus, while masking remains a requirement—at least until November 2021, when the CDPH indicated it will reconsider this issue based on data — the CDPH guidance does relax the strongest precautionary measures from last year, provides for a return to in-person instruction, full-length school days, and removes specific physical distancing requirements.
The guidance also makes a variety of recommendations on topics including ventilation methods, screening testing, case reporting, quarantine and isolation recommendations, and safe food service.
Charter schools will need to update their COVID-19 Health and Safety board policies and Injury and Illness Prevention Plans to reflect any changes in procedure resulting from the CDPH guidance and recommendations. This will include determining how they will develop and implement protocols regarding the mask mandate at their school. Charter schools also need to prepare or update their SRIPICS and submit confirmation to the CDE, as soon as possible; for some of you, the COVID Safety Plan (including the state checklist and COVID Protection Plan) you adopted in 2020-21 as part of reopening will provide the framework for your SRIPICS, but it will need to be updated to reflect the new guidance, and you must first seek community input prior to finalizing. Updates and changes to any of these documents will also need to reflect updated workplace safety guidelines from CalOSHA, and to the extent a school has a collective bargaining agreement, may require bargaining related to any changes.
As always, the attorneys of Young, Minney & Corr are available to advise you as you continue to navigate these uniquely challenging times. Please feel free to reach out if you need advice on developing a masking enforcement policy or if you have any other questions regarding the effect of the CDPH’s guidance on your operations.
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