Reopening plan approved, mask mandates will be enforced

Article updated on Aug. 16

ATASCADERO — The Atascadero Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Trustees met on Tuesday, Aug. 10, at 10 a.m. after having to reschedule from last Tuesday due to not meeting the minimum 72-hour notice on posting the agenda for the Board Meeting on the Districts web site.

Open session began with a public comment in which statements were delivered via email as well as in-person.

Getting through this together, Atascadero

One of the emails addressed the bus schedule, but the other 36 statements were either adamantly for or against freedom of choice regarding face coverings in a school setting.

Proponents from each side expressed their concerns for their children’s well-being. While there were significantly more comments made to support freedom and choice, both sides of the argument made it clear that they are concerned for their children and that this issue is a very personal and deeply troubling matter to many families.

A case was made to follow all state-mandated guidelines in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 to the best of the Districts ability. A case was also made to follow the examples of many other school districts that have decided not to enforce mask mandates in their schools.

In past meetings, comments were made by Superintendent Tom Butler and others indicating that the Board’s hands were tied on the issue due to the fact that millions of dollars in funding were tied to the mandates.

Things became confusing once all public comments were made when several of the trustees expressed their distaste for the implication that funding had been a factor in their decision-making process.

Trustee *Terry Switzer reacted with an expletive and a crass statement to express her frustration at the implication.

Jackie Martin, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, stated that “there is no funding tied to the plan.”

Trustee Ray Buban clarified that “we’re getting funded regardless.”

Trustee Switzer stated that “none of the federal money is tied to having a board-approved plan.”

Trustee Mary Kay Mills expressed her frustration and confusion over this new information, stating, “At our last board meeting, I remember hearing that there was COVID funding tied to the safety plan.”

Trustee Mills was correct. During the meeting on Jul. 22, Butler stated that “there are some funding sources that are attached to following the guidelines and having a board-approved plan…and some of those are in the tune of millions of dollars, and so those would be at risk of being lost.”

Previous statements like this have given the impression that funding was the primary factor in deciding to enforce the mask mandate or not. It was clear from the hyperfocus on that particular topic during public comment that this was the community’s understanding of the situation as well. Once the new information was presented, it became clear that the public had unknowingly wasted much of their argument on a straw man.

Trustee Mills then asked, “so if we didn’t approve this plan today, would that mean our children could go to school without masks tomorrow?”

Butler responded, “County Public Health would come in and say we were in violation of the health guidelines. They would assert themselves. So at this point, after speaking with legal counsel, they say the rules will stand about masks in the classrooms.”

Butler went on to explain the reasoning behind this decision.

“We have a large obligation to our employees. This plan is also part of their working environment. We have a teacher’s association…they follow the Cal OSHA guidelines.”

The Board voted to approve the plan in a 6-1 vote, with Mills being the only dissenting vote.

Finally, a resolution petitioning for greater local control was read aloud for the Board’s consideration. Some of the language was changed to reflect that masks are harmful to “all kids” and not just special needs and English as a second language learner.

The date on the resolution was also updated. It was then unanimously approved.

The meeting was adjourned at approximately 1:10 p.m. The next AUSD Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 17, at 7 p.m.

This meeting can be viewed on the District’s YouTube page.

UPDATE: *Correction made on Aug. 16 Trustee Corinne Kuhnle was mentioned in a comment that Trustee Terry Switzer said.