For the first time in two years, students and teachers in the Sequoia Union High School District will have the option to not wear a mask in classrooms.
The Board of Trustees voted 5-0 last week to lift its mask mandate starting on March 12.
The district is following new state and county guidance that lifts the requirement to wear a face mask inside schools at the end of the day on Friday, March 11. Masks will still be strongly recommended.
The district joins the Woodside Elementary, Portola Valley, Las Lomitas, Redwood City School District and Menlo Park City school districts, who moved to lift their mask mandates in the last few weeks.
The district was hit hard by the COVID-19 upon the return from winter break, reporting over 1,800 cases during January, according to a March 9 Sequoia district staff report.
Just two weeks ago, there were 23 cases and so far this week there have been 14 cases. Menlo-Atherton High School saw just two cases last week, while Woodside High School had five. Case counts aren't yet back to the single-digit numbers the district consistently saw during the fall semester.
Some teachers and parents shared with the board their reservations about lifting the mandate, while others said it's time for the restrictions to be loosened.
Jenna Carson, who works in the Student Support Services Department at M-A in Atherton, said she felt confident the district is "ready for mask choice." She does "worry deeply" about the number of students who are hiding behind their masks and their hoods.
"I would be surprised if many students remove their masks on Monday at all," she said. "The vast majority even wear them outside during the day."
One Sequoia High School teacher, who is immunocompromised, shared his fears about staying safe on campus if others aren't wearing masks.
Tricia Barr, a parent of three, one of whom attends M-A, said it's time to let the mask mandate expire and that mask wearing has an impact on mental health.
Trustee Shawneece Stevenson said it's important that people not invalidate other people's experiences or feelings once masks come off.
"I am wondering how people will act toward other people who exercise their right," she said. "We are not going back to normal, we're never going to ever go back to pre-pandemic. We will always have this experience, but we're transitioning to an endemic state."
For the first time, the district released student vaccination information. 85.8% of all students in the district have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of March 2, according to the March 9 staff report.
Student data is from the California Immunization Registry, said Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Elizabeth Chacón.
As of March 1, 87.2% of staff are fully vaccinated as of March 1, the report states.
Pulse Staff contributed to this report.