PAUSD to drop mask requirement

Payton Anderson, Senior Staff Writer

Junior Adelaide McCarter removes her mask after stepping into the Quad after school. As of March 12 Palo Alto Unified School District will no longer require masks in school, according to Superintendent Don Austin, who said the removal of the mask mandate will serve as a big step in providing students with a sense of normalcy. “I am a professional educator and believe optional masking is a big step for the mental health of our staff and students,” Austin said. “It will be uncomfortable for some, maybe many, in the beginning.” (Photo: Payton Anderson)

Students will no longer be required to wear a mask while indoors after March 11, as Superintendent Don Austin announced Monday, following guidance from the California Department of Public Health. 

Palo Alto Unified School District has followed COVID-19 guidelines well, Austin said, adding that students were able to experience dances, outdoor gatherings, trips, and more because of the safety measures PAUSD has implemented regarding the virus.

“We [PAUSD] have landed on the side of allowing students to have the least restrictive experiences possible,” Austin said. “From the first day of closures, we have led at every step of the way. Other school districts throughout the state follow us.”

Additionally, Austin said he recognizes the unpredictability of yet another surge in COVID-19 cases once the mandate is lifted for schools, but the mask mandate makes it easy for the community to readapt once more if necessary. 

“The best part about lifting the masking mandate is the ability to reinstate it if conditions change,” Austin said. “It is impossible to predict future variants, surges, severity, or the end of COVID.”

Santa Clara County’s Public Health Director Sara Cody made a similar point acknowledging in a recent public statement the possibility of a surge in cases in, but saying we can protect the rest of the community by remaining cautious of the threat the virus poses to vulnerable groups. 

“We [members of Santa Clara County] need to ensure that we protect people who remain vulnerable to COVID because of age or illness or an underlying medical condition,” Cody said. “Universal masking will continue to protect our entire community.” 

Deputy Superintendent Trent Bahadursingh told The Paly Voice on Tuesday that both students and staff can work to prevent the potential rise in cases after the lifting of the mask mandate.

“Our school community has been very proactive about health and safety practices related to the pandemic,” Bahadursingh said. “Strategies include staying home when sick or having symptoms, and following some of the original health and safety recommendations such as hand-washing and [social] distancing when possible.”

Despite these possibilities, Bahadursingh said, the removal of a mask mandate would ease the distress caused by the past two years of the pandemic many students and teachers have felt. 

“If students can feel safe, healthy and comfortable with their mask choices it can play a role in their mental health and wellbeing,” Bahadursingh said. “It allows them to individually find their comfort zone.”