PRJUSD is the first District in SLO County to pass a mask choice resolution

PASO ROBLES — During the Tuesday, Feb. 22 school board meeting, Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (PRJUSD) trustees passed a mask choice resolution, effective immediately. 

Starting Feb. 23, PRJUSD students have the choice to wear a mask or not, regardless of their vaccination status.

Following student protests for mask choice on Feb. 15, a resolution was proposed for mask choice. Due to the large amount of public present at the meeting for the resolution, Trustee Dorian Baker requested it to be moved from Item 6 to Item 2.

Baker also made it known that San Luis Obispo County Public Health Director Penny Borenstein was invited to the meeting to educate them on the value of masking, but she declined the offer.

Four options were presented to the Board. Deputy Superintendent Jennifer Gaviola presented the staff’s recommendation, “Although we understand the disdain for masks and the desperate need to get back to normal, the staff has come to the recommendation for the protection of the district, its fiscal responsibility, and the safety of our students and staff that we should maintain alignment with the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Education and continuing with masks until further notice.”

The threat of losing insurance coverage has been repeatedly brought up when districts bring up mask choice resolutions. Trustee Frank Triggs asked staff to clarify if the District’s insurance company, Self-Insured Schools of California (SISC), has threatened to cancel the coverage.

Assistant Superintendent Brad Pawlowski said, “At this point, SISC has not sent a letter saying that they will remove our insurance. They are cautioning us that if we make this decision and move forward with this, we do increase our potential liability.”

Triggs said, “Whatever we do tonight, we need to unmask our children.” 

Prior to public comment, Trustees presented their thoughts on the resolution.

Trustee Nathan Williams wore a mask representing those who choose to wear keeping wearing masks, “I don’t wear this mask in defiance. I don’t wear this mask because my family and I believe that masks are useful. It’s a choice, but it is also representation of many voices out there. We received a lot of emails from students from parents on both sides of the issue. And it is not majority one way or the other.”

Trustee Baker was in favor of passing the resolutions, “This catastrophe is man-made and due entirely to the failing of adults…this is what Americans do. We debate, we challenge bad laws and edicts, and we protect the most vulnerable.” 

Trustee Tim Gearhart stated he would prefer to wait until the end of the month when the State said they would reevaluate the mandate, “I feel that there is a threat of action against the district and each one of us possible if certain people decide to do it—I would prefer to table this discussion.”

Trustee Lance Gannon stated he had heard opinions on both sides of the mask argument and the public opinion remains split down the middle. “I feel that we need to get the masks off these kids. As unpopular—I’m here to be fiscally responsible for the District, but I’m also responsible for the students and their well-being.” 

Trustee Christ Bausch also supported the resolution, “Back then, in March 2020, I believed that vaccines should be parental choice, and I thought masks should be parental choice. I still feel that way—I think mitigating learning loss will occur much faster if we ditch the mask.”

President Chris Arend mentioned to table the resolution would be kicking the issue down the road. He favors the resolution but will not finalize it until hearing from the public.

Student Trustee Malia Gaviola presented a survey by 50 student senators representing their tutorial class. Forty-two percent voted to rid masks, 52 percent wished the Board would wait for the new mandate, six percent voted to keep masks on regardless.

Malia gave the student recommendation, “I would urge the Board to either halt the mask discussion until after the State comes out with the new mandate or to have whatever new resolution that may pass tonight to not go into effect until after the 28 as well. That way, we are still in accordance with the State, and the students are able to have a designated date to look forward to instead of having an uncertain future of not knowing when they will be able to return back to normal. The Board must consider the vote of the student senate, the letters sent by the students, and proceed with student well-being in mind.”

However, a student in a public comment said she was never asked to vote on masks in her tutorial class. She also said she had been docked points on participation in her Spanish class for not wearing her mask properly. 

The Board extended public comment to 40 minutes. Comments came from medical professionals, parents, and students. Majority of the public was in favor of the mask choice resolution. 

In the end, the Board passed the mask choice resolution with a 5-2 vote. Gearhart and Williams both voted no because while they agree masks should be optional, they disagree on how to get there.

The current resolution is mask choice for students only. Staff was not included in the resolution due to further OSHA conflictions. However, mask choice for staff will be brought back for further discussion.

PRJUSD posted the following statement on their social media page:

“We must make sure all students know that we accept their choice regarding wearing or not wearing a mask indoors. No one will be allowed to shame students for their choice. Per the Resolution, N95 Masks will be made available upon request at all sites for students and staff.

Please make sure to communicate kindness and acceptance to all students. Mask or no mask, we are all Paso Schools.”

Next, the Board discussed item I7: Exoneration of Student Protestors. The item was brought forward by a member of the public looking for students participating in the mask choice protest on Feb. 15 not to be disciplined.

Staff clarified the students who were suspended on Feb. 15 were suspended for using profanity during their protest.

Several students have attested their grades were affected by mask-wearing. Staff informed the Board they are investigating the grading for about 5-6 cases.

“We don’t agree that a child’s grade should have been affected by mask-wearing—that is exactly what we’re looking into,” said Gaviola.

Trustee Bausch requested staff bring their investigation findings back to the Board and be agendized for the next school board meeting. He created the following motion that any student who has been adversely impacted because of their mask-wearing or not wearing by grade, sent out of class, attendance, or so forth.

The motion failed 2-5, Bausch and Triggs yes. The other trustees voted no to wait for the investigations to be completed and brought back to the board for further discussion.