M. Terry/SFVS

For the first time since in-person learning returned to Los Angeles Unified School District students, they and their teachers are allowed to attend class without wearing a protective mask to ward against COVID-19.   

Despite the lift, at San Fernando Elementary School on Wednesday, most of the school’s students still continued to wear a mask on the first day without the mandate. On a typical day when students file into school, they were handed a mask if they weren’t wearing one — now they are only given one if they request it.  

“A majority of our students are still wearing masks. I think families and staff will make whatever choice they are comfortable with … and hopefully we won’t see more cases,” said Jennifer Stone, an assistant vice principal at the school. 

“We discussed it at our morning staff meeting and most of our teachers were nervous about masks coming off, especially when they have to work closely with children at small tables for more than 15 minutes,” she said.                         

Many at the school were surprised that members of the union had agreed to lift the mask mandate after being adamant that mask wearing should remain until the end of the year. Stone said the district didn’t provide much direct information or communication over the last few days and it’s hard to say whether students are still wearing masks because their parents want them to continue to wear them or if the latest information has reached them.  

Stone who noted that while there were some parents who complained initially about the mask requirement, she didn’t see them “jumping in,” to have their children stop wearing a mask on the first day when it was permitted to remove them.  

The closely knit small city of San Fernando — where the school is located is only 2.37 square miles with a dense population of 24,535 residents — has had 10,380 cases of COVID-19 to date. 

Parents commenting on the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol Facebook page have mixed opinions about removing masks in the classroom.  

“My kids will still be wearing their mask is my own mandate,” wrote Huera Rosa. “My kid wants to keep it on, it makes it easier for me. So far, we’ve been safe, so hope we continue staying safe.”  

“Mine will continue to wear hers due to a low immune system. Let’s just teach our kids not to tease others on their decisions,” wrote Janine Hernandez Feliz.

On the other side of the aisle, Laura Shaver posted, “They should’ve never implemented it. Giving everyone the choice like they do now is the best. I do feel bad for those who lost anyone due to COVID complications.”                          

“To each his own!” wrote Jiselle Escobedo. “We can’t live in fear … just another illness/virus to the list and we must live on.”  

Other anti-mask comments questioned the validity of the virus itself.

Marco Lopez referenced the hot weather in the valley, “This summer, 100+ degree weather, elementary kids out there running around with their masks on smh.”  

Amio Maria, another parent, said she is taking every precaution and is continuing to keep her children at home. 

“My kids have not been in person to any school. I am trying to enroll my 5 year old into [a] virtual school. I do not trust this not wearing a mask or the vax. I’m still keeping my kids in virtual academy for two more years.” 

The mask mandate will still be enforced at pre-schools. A COVID-19 vaccine is still not available for children under 5 years old and under the pact made with the school district and the United Teachers Los Angeles union (UTLA), masking will continue to be required for staff and students in Early Education Centers and other early learner programs with students aged 4 and under.

“We continue to be guided by science and we are where we are today because of the early adoption of the measures,” LAUSD’s new Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Board of Education on Tuesday.

“Suffice it to say at this point, that based on improved conditions in our community and certainly in our school system as a result of the proactive measures adopted by this board, have led to conditions that have allowed for the significant relaxation of existing protocols.”

The latest variant BA.2 — which has become the dominant strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 — was not noted in the Superintendent’s or the district’s remarks. LAUSD Medical Director Dr. Smita Malhotra told the board masks will still be recommended in schools, and thus, students and staff are free to keep wearing them.

“We’re not saying that people should not mask,” she said. “Every family must evaluate their own level of risk and comfort. We understand that many adults and children will continue to mask and that is entirely OK. The district will continue to monitor thresholds with our health partners for when mitigation measures need to be escalated.”

She said the success of COVID-19 vaccines “dramatically changed the game” in the fight against the virus. 

LAUSD had maintained its indoor mask mandate even after the state and county lifted its requirements on March 12. The district’s labor agreement with UTLA included a clause that required mask wearing indoors through the end of the school year; however, the district announced last week that it had reached agreements with its labor unions, including UTLA, allowing the district to remove the indoor mask-wearing mandate. 

On Monday night, UTLA announced that its members had voted 15,466-2,954, or 84%-16%, to approve the agreement. The agreement will be in place until June 30. Additional talks are expected later to determine protocols for the next school year.

“The COVID-19 vaccines have been some of the most studied vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in US history,” Malhotra said. 

“Study after study has shown that COVID-19 vaccination prevents severe illness and reduces transmission of COVID-19. And because of the efforts of the district over this past year to provide access and education (on) vaccines, 100% of our staff at school sites are vaccinated, and 90% of our students 12 and above are vaccinated.”

City News Service contributed to this story.