Children at a Los Angeles school
Children at a Los Angeles school. Courtesy LAUSD

Los Angeles Unified School District students and staff were officially permitted to remove their masks indoors starting Wednesday, as the district aligned with the state and county COVID-19 guidance on face coverings.

“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,” LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Board of Education on Tuesday.

“We continue to be guided by science and we are where we are today because of the early adoption of the measures.”

The 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 the United Teachers Los Angeles teachers’ union included a clause that required mask wearing indoors through the end of the school year.

Last week, however, the district announced 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.

Under that pact, 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, according to Kim Turner, a communications specialist with UTLA. COVID vaccines are not yet available for children under age 5.

The district’s labor agreements also call for continued weekly COVID testing of all students and staff through the end of the school year with masks “strongly recommended” indoors.

The district also must continue to offer KN95 or N95 masks to any employee who requests them. The district also must provide take-home COVID tests to all students and staff, who will be instructed to take the tests prior to returning from spring break.

The agreement will be in place until June 30. Additional talks are expected later to determine protocols for the next school year.

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.”

Reports from some school campuses Wednesday indicated that many students opted to continue wearing masks, despite the mandate being lifted.

“I could count on one hand the number of kids who were not wearing a mask,” Jefferson High School instructional coach Susan Ferguson told the Southern California News Group around midday. “At this point, I saw no change in behavior.”

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

“The COVID-19 vaccines have been some of the most studied vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history,” she 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.”

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