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San Francisco schools to phase out student mask mandate

San Francisco students will soon be able to remove their masks on campus as San Francisco Unified School District and teachers’ union officials announced plans Friday to lift in-school mask requirements.

Mask requirements will be lifted for central district offices as well as middle and high schools in the city on March 12, when the state will also lift its indoor mask mandate for K-12 schools.

The district will then lift mask requirements at all other schools and worksites on April 2. At all district schools and worksites, the use of masks will still be recommended.

The district jointly announced the plan to lift its mask mandate with officials from labor unions representing its workers, including the United Administrators of San Francisco and the United Educators of San Francisco.

SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews said:

“We are committed to following public health guidance, and our health officials have stated that masks in schools are no longer required but still recommended. … We are starting with middle and high schools, where there are higher vaccination rates, in order to give more time for families of younger students to get their children vaccinated.”

State officials announced Monday that mask requirements for students would be lifted March 11 at 11:59 p.m. but said individual school districts would have carte blanche to continue requiring the use of masks indoors.

SFUSD officials initially said the district would not change its masking policy on March 12, arguing that health officials still strongly recommended the use of masks and that masking is “one of the least burdensome” ways schools can reduce the virus’ spread.

On Friday, union officials said they supported the swift reversal, arguing that existing safety standards like regular testing and improved classroom ventilation will also help reduce the virus’ spread even if students are no longer required to wear a mask.

UESF President Cassondra Curiel said:

“With all of those multilayers of mitigation outlined in our ongoing health and safety agreement still in place, we support an ease in the mask mandate that still provides time for our youngest students to get vaccinated.”

The district also announced that it will change its contact tracing policy for students, beginning March 24, allowing them to remain in class if they’ve been exposed to the virus unless they have or develop symptoms.

Students will also be required to test regularly after being exposed to determine if they contract the virus themselves.

According to the district, the policy will allow students to avoid missed school days, as previous policies required students exposed to the virus to stay home even if they did not show symptoms or test positive.

The district plans to distribute rapid Covid tests to students and staff during spring break, scheduled for the last week of March. Students and staff will be expected to use the tests prior to returning to school on April 4, regardless of if they are symptomatic.

Matthews said:

“We recognize changes in masking and contact tracing practices will be a transition for our community.”

He added:

“Throughout this pandemic we have had to constantly change but I trust we are moving in the right direction when we follow the science.”

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