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Solana Beach schools update COVID policies to require masking outdoors

SOLANA BEACH — With school back in session and the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 leading to increases in positive cases and hospitalizations, Solana Beach Elementary School District has answered a call for new and stricter guidelines.

As of August 30, the district is now requiring all students and faculty to be masked both indoors and outdoors regardless of vaccination status.

According to the new policy, “students will be provided opportunities with mask breaks as well as PE activities where students will be distanced 6 (feet) or more.”

When the school district implemented its guidelines for the 2021-2022 school year, the delta variant had yet to begin rapidly spreading in the United States. Since then, cases are on the rise and local hospitals are again stretched thin with an influx of COVID-19 patients.

The decision came in response to a number of parents in the district who signed a letter to the school board urging them to implement stricter guidelines to keep their children protected at school.

Rommie Amaro, a professor at UCSD and a district parent, spoke at a recent school board meeting to urge board members to follow the lead of other school districts in San Diego.

“These outdated guidelines are no longer adequate and are putting our children at risk,” Amaro said.

Amaro and the 247 parents she said have endorsed her letter, requested the district implement a mask mandate both indoors and outdoors at school regardless of vaccination status and upgrades to the school’s ventilation systems.

The San Diego Unified School School recently implemented such a policy following the lead of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which started its school year with a mandate.

“We have a short window of time to ensure the safety and well-being of all children in our district. I urge you in the strongest of terms to seize it,” Amaro said to the Solana Beach school board.

The Solana Beach School District consists of seven schools serving grades K-6. The district began its school year on August 16. In a welcome back video the day before the first day of classes, Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger reiterated the district policy that masking outdoors was optional for students.

Like in most school districts across the county and the nation, the desire for more strict guidelines regarding the pandemic is not unanimous among Solana Beach parents.

Rachel Doyle, a parent of students in Solana Vista, made written comments to the school board expressing her dismay at the call for more masking.

“While I respect this opinion, these parents have choices,” Doyle wrote about the letter circulated among district parents calling for outdoor masking. “These parents can have their children wear masks outdoors. They also have the choice of online education should a school campus environment not feel right for their family.”

The board will reevaluate its updated masking policy at its Oct. 14 regularly scheduled board meeting.

Board Member Julie Union was not enthusiastic about the change in policy but was willing to reevaluate next month.

“For me, it’s really important that we’re gonna reevaluate this in seven weeks to see how we’re doing,” Union said.