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SAN DIEGO – Starting next month, masks no longer will be required indoors for students and staff in the San Diego Unified School District, officials announced Friday.

The shift comes April 4 when the state’s second-largest school district returns from its spring break. San Diego Unified was one of the few local holdouts planning to keep its mask requirement in place following Monday’s announcement by Gov. Gavin Newsom that drops the mandate for schools and child care facilities starting March 12.

Many area school districts have released plans to end their indoor mask mandate, but San Diego Unified declined to do so in the governor’s timeline, citing the county’s status in the CDC’s “high-risk” category.

“Two weeks ago, we spoke with our advisors from UC San Diego, the majority felt at that time that removing a mask mandate was premature, as the local COVID-19 case rate remained high,” district officials wrote Friday in a letter to its community. “Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) moved San Diego County into the lowest level of concern.

“For that reason, we believe it is appropriate to update our safety measures at this time.”

In the letter, the district said it’s acknowledging “that this is a major change that will require difficult decisions for many.” Under the district’s new policy, masks now will be strongly recommended for all, but not a requirement.

Other pandemic mitigation efforts such as air filtration, COVID-19 testing, distancing and handwashing, among others, remain in place. Students also will be provided with at-home COVID tests to use prior to returning from spring break, the same policy the district employed prior to its return from winter break earlier this year.

“This strategy worked extremely well before Winter Break, and we are grateful to have enough tests to be able to repeat the process,” officials said.

For most districts, ending the indoor mask mandate after March 11 applies primarily to students with some such as the Fallbrook Union High and Vista Unified school districts awaiting CalOSHA guidance on mask-wearing for staff members.

“From March 14th forward, all students will no longer be required to wear a mask while inside classrooms and other school buildings,” Vista Unified said in a Monday update. “However, all students have the option to continue to wear a mask indoors and outdoors. We expect all members of our school community to respect each individual student and staff choice.”

San Diego Unified’s policy applies to students, staff, families and visitors, the letter Friday shows.

Not yet dropping the mandate in the county is the Sweetwater Union High School District, which like San Diego Unified, said Monday the requirement would remain. Sweetwater Union plans to assess its mandate March 14, two weeks after Newsom’s announcement, to examine “community spread at that time.”

“We reiterate that the safety of our school communities must be the guiding factor for any decisions affecting our students and staff and continue to encourage testing, masking, and vaccinations,” Sweetwater Union said this week.

San Diego Unified is urging parents in the district to have conversations with students to determine how the change is being processed.

“If you need help, we now have a vastly expanded support network in place to help your student move forward with confidence,” the district said. “Asking for help is the first step.”