Mask Wearing and Vaccines — a Necessary Inconvenience as School Starts

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School began in Chula Vista on July 21. Above, from left to right are: Zaniya Saunders, Zariah Saunders and Elijah Saunders. Zaniya (third grader) and Elijah (Six grader) attend Wolf Canyon Elementary. Zariah is enrolled in preschool at Olympic View Elementary School.

By Sharon P. Saunders, Contributing Writer

As the national debate continues about whether masks should be required for students as school begins, some San Diego parents are frustrated and uneasy about the process to keep students safe, but say the precautions are necessary. Others say that COVID-19 vaccinations should be required of San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) employees as an added safety feature.

“Masks right now are the only safeguard we have,” said Winnona Dancy, who retired in June 2021 after working 18 years as a teacher at Samuel F. B. Morse High School. She agrees with Gov. Gavin Newsom that school employees should be vaccinated.

“We were required to get smallpox and polio shots,” she said. “There are rules we have to abide by not only for our safety, but for the safety of others. We will never go back to the normalcy we once knew but at least we can work toward creating a future environment where we can touch each other and talk face to face. People want kids to be back at school, but we need to get this out of the way.”

Students return for the first day of classes on Monday, August 30. The SDUSD is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), which recommends people two years and older should wear a mask.

During her years at Morse High School, Dancy taught clothing construction, food preparation, nutrition and hospitality. She taught students remotely during the 20-21 school year, then returned to in-person teaching in March of this year.

“Before we went back to school, we were doing things online,” said Dancy. “It was like watching a television that was turned off. Students didn’t have to show their faces. Communication was difficult. Then we returned. Wearing a mask all day was difficult. All you could see were their eyes. They gave us baby wipes to clean the desks and I don’t believe it was even enough to kill the bacteria. It was hard.”

On August 11, California became the first state in the nation to implement measures to encourage teachers to get vaccinated. CDPH has issued a new public health order requiring all school staff to either show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once per week. The policy will take effect August 12, and schools must be in full compliance by October 15, 2021.

“Every time someone coughs it freaks me out,” said Shantel Saunders, the mother of three children enrolled in public schools in Chula Vista Elementary School District (CVESD). “It sucks to have a mask on, but I rather my children have it on than get sick. People have to be considerate — not just thinking about themselves.”

Saunders’ son and daughter are students at Wolf Canyon Elementary School. Elijah is a six grader and Zaniya a third grader. Her youngest child Zariah attends pre-kindergarten at Olympic View Elementary School, which is a school in CVESD.

Students in the CVESD returned on July 21 with administrators following guidelines for indoor mask wearing from the CDPH. Masks are optional outdoors for all in K-12 school settings.

Shortly after Saunders’ children entered school in July, they had flu-like symptoms. She took them to Urgent Care for treatment and discovered after a negative rapid COVID-19 test, they had a common cold. Her children did not attend school for a day and Saunders was called by school officials asking why they were absent. When she told them they were sick, Saunders was told by school officials not to bring them back until they took the regular COVID test.

“Every time your child gets sick, they require that they be tested,” said Saunders. “It is annoying. It took almost a week for the results to come back. They missed a week of school.”

Saunders calls the process “scary” and “nerve wrecking” because she does not want things to revert back to the way they were during lock down. Her son did extremely well with remote learning, but her daughter does better with in-person learning.

“Education is important,” said Saunders, who supports the safety measures imposed by CVESD. “I don’t want them to go through the process of virtual learning. They need to be healthy, safe and in school learning.”

Shawntae Williams has two children who attend Vista La Mesa Academy in the Lemon Grove School District. Marshawn is in the seventh grade and Shamar is a third grader.

Masks are required indoors for students and employees, however, Williams said that different policies nationwide regarding mask wearing puts people at risk. Her children visited their father in Pensacola this summer and attended a camp where masks were not required.

“Children should wear masks when they are around other people,” said Williams. “A lot of kids seem to not mind. It is all about safety. We don’t want to go back on lock down or have children infecting their parents and grandparents. Honestly I feel that everyone should wear a mask whether they have the vaccine or not, including staff.”

Both Williams and Saunders believe that masks help, but noted that COVID-19 vaccinations are needed to keep everyone safe.

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