Hear from local parents on both sides of the school mask debate


SAN DIEGO — California advocacy groups including Let Them Breathe, based in San Diego, have filed a lawsuit against the state for its mask mandate for schools, and parents on both sides of the debate sounded off at a rally and school board meeting Thursday.

Let Them Breathe along with Reopen California Schools, based in Northern California, are suing Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health challenging the state’s facial covering, asymptomatic testing and close-contact quarantine guidance for K-12 schools.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it is safe to reopen schools without requiring masks for vaccinated children, California health officials say they want to require masks to accommodate schools that would struggle to implement distancing in classrooms and other precautions.

“Based on all the studies we’ve seen, kids don’t really get very sick from COVID and they don’t tend to spread it. Most of the teachers and staff are already vaccinated and vulnerable people are vaccinated,” said Arie Spangler, attorney for Let Them Breathe, Thursday.

The complaint alleges that the state’s mask mandate for all students is arbitrary, not based on scientific evidence, harmful to students, and impedes effective education — but not everyone agrees.

“These people don’t live in Vista. I live in Vista, my children go to school here in Vista,” said Christina Castaneda, who saw the rally in her neighborhood Thursday and spoke with FOX 5 about the debate.

After several “mask-choice” rallies in different districts in San Diego County, some parents spoke out in favor of keeping the mandate at the Vista Unified school board meeting Thursday.

“Kids under the age of 12 are vulnerable. I hate hearing, ‘Oh well it’s just going be easy for them to survive it — we don’t know the long-term effects,” Karie Winchester, one of the speakers, said.

“Their priority is to bring students back in person with just a mask, and that’s the safest way for our children to be in person, which is the most crucial point compared to what we did last year,” Castaneda continued.

However parents with Let Them Breathe say it’s not the government’s place — or the school districts’ — to make these choices for their kids.

“It’s just shocking to me that we’re at this point. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating that we actually as parents have to file a lawsuit just for our kids to be able to engage in their education, share their smiles with people, and just feel comfortable breathing,” Sharon McKeeman, the founder of Let Them Breathe, said.

The complaint was filed by Southern California law firm Aannestad, Andelin & Corn, LLP and also identifies Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; Dr. Tomás Aragón, California’s Public Health Officer and Director of the California Department of Public Health; and Dr. Naomi Bardach, Safe Schools for All Team Lead for the Department of Health and Human Services as defendants.

Let Them Breathe is asking for an emergency injunction for the mask mandate as well as quarantine and testing protocols in schools. Attorneys say they should have a court date in two to three weeks.

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