South Bay school district keeps indoor COVID masking mandate

The continued spread of COVID variants has led one South Bay school district to keep its indoor mask mandate, two-and-a-half years since the deadly virus first appeared.

"We’ve always kept our masking mandate at all of our Alum Rock schools," said Corina Herrera-Loera, a member of the Board of Trustees for the Alum Rock Union School District in East San Jose.

Santa Clara County relaxed its indoor mask mandate Mar. 2. At the time, health officials cited declines in COVID infection and hospitalization rates. Other Bay Area counties have done the same, and said indoor making is only optional.

Representatives for the largest Bay Area school districts – San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland unified, all have said masking is encouraged, but not mandatory. But Alum Rock School District officials stayed the course, citing higher COVID positivity rates.

"Many schools do not have a modern HVAC systems. So the transmission of viruses at least in the indoor environment is a fairly significant risk," said Dr. Dean Winslow, an infectious diseases expert at Stanford Medicine.

The district’s mandate has caused at least one family to refuse to send two of its children to Adelante Duel Language Academy. It’s also touched off debate.

"I don’t like they wear masks," said one father as he picked up his two children from Adelante. Another parent said, "If it keeps them safe, it’s good."

District officials say the issue is broader than just preventing the spread of COVID variants among children.

"It’s not just the students that we’re protecting, and keeping healthy, but also our staff," said Herrera-Loera.

UCSF Infectious diseases expert Dr. Monica Gandhi cited two studies that show little difference in COVID transmission rates in schools where masks are required versus those where making is optional.

"At this point,  we have vaccines down to six months of age. And we don’t need to mandate masks," said Dr. Gandhi.

Alum Rock School District officials say they’ve offered accommodations to the impacted family, to continue learning at school. But those measures have been refused.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on Twitter @JesseKTVU and Instagram @jessegontv