This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Rosemary Miranda was excited to send her first-grade daughter Isabella to school knowing she will be able to remove her mask after the Los Angeles Unified School District lifted its mask requirement late last month.
“From my perspective with children with disabilities, it’s better because… due to sensory issues they can’t keep it on all the time,” said Miranda, explaining that Isabella’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder makes the mask uncomfortable and distracting to wear for hours.
Outside Eastman Avenue Elementary School in East Los Angeles, parents and other caregivers offered a range of opinions on LAUSD’s recent decision to make masks “strongly recommended” but no longer required in schools.
Miranda frequently reminds Isabella, 6, she must continue to sanitize her hands frequently and to be cautious when around other children.
She is plainly relieved Isabella doesn’t need to mask up all day. “She still wears her mask, but she pulls it down when she needs to, which is great now,” said Miranda.
At the end of February, Governor Newsom announced masks would not be required indoors, but still recommended.
But LAUSD’s update of its mask policy took longer than the state and other California schools districts because L.A. Unified had to negotiate an end to the mask with United Teachers Los Angeles.
The two sides reached a tentative agreement on March 18 to make wearing masks indoors optional for K-12 students and staff. In a memorandum of understanding, the two sides agree masks would be “strongly recommended” inside schools, but not required.
“UTLA educators, parents, and our school communities have fought for LAUSD to be the vanguard of health and safety in public education across the nation during this pandemic — an accomplishment due in large part to the weekly testing program and the strong safety protocols we’ve bargained with the district,” UTLA president, Myart-Cruz said in a statement. “As we monitor the trajectory of the virus, we will continue to put health and safety first.”
Grandmothers Marina and Estella, who asked their last names not be used, said they feel more confident in sending them to school wearing their masks.
“It’s much safer for the kids to keep their masks on,” said Marina, as she picked up her grandchildren at Eastman Avenue Elementary School. “Sometimes a lot of parents will know their kids are sick and send them to school like that without thinking about everyone else.”
Estella said she understands how frustrating wearing a mask can be, especially for younger children, but the safety of her grandchildren is her top priority.
“We would also like to not have to wear the mask, and sometimes I won’t have mine on while outside, but it’s not the time to remove them completely yet,” Estella said.
Ana Sanchez, a mother of two LAUSD students, said she is not yet ready to remove her kids’ masks.
“[My son] has talked to me about the mask being optional but he said he’s going to keep his on until [the pandemic] calms down,” Sanchez said. “He just feels more secure by wearing the mask when inside of class.”
In a statement released on March 18, LAUSD superintendent Alberto Carvalho shared his enthusiasm for the change.
“I strongly support ending the indoor mask requirement and am committed to continuing to uphold our science-based approach to COVID-19 safety and protocols,” Carvalho said.
“We know some in our school communities and offices will continue to wear masks, while others may not. Please consider your situation and do what is best for you or your child.”
Weekly testing for students and staff will still be required. If COVID-19 conditions worsen, UTLA and LAUSD will meet again to change safety protocols as necessary.
Destiny Torres is a graduate student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism pursuing a master of science degree in journalism. She earned her bachelor’s degree at CSU Dominguez Hills. She is passionate about culture and social justice issues.