With COVID-19 Delta Variant Surging, Needles School District Allowing Students To Go Maskless

In the wake of an uptick in the COVID-19 infection rate nationally and regionally, the Needles Unified School District is not requiring students to wear masks or get vaccinated as the 2021-22 school year gets under way.
The decision has been both hailed and decried by parents of the district’s students.
By late March 2020, most school districts in San Bernardino County had discontinued in-class learning. By April 2020, all public schools in San Bernardino County were no longer holding classes on campus, as the faculties and students switched to distant instruction mode, including classes held through remote electronic hook-ups via the internet and other methodologies including Zoom, a web conferencing platform used for audio and/or video exchanges.
According to medical professionals, initial studies done in mid-2020 indicated that children and adolescents had substantially better COVID-19 outcomes than the elderly, adults and young adults. This was backed by further testing by researchers from Yale and Albert Einstein College of Medicine indicating children produced higher levels of two specific immune system molecules than did those who are older, which led to a tentative conclusion that human children above the age of 4 were more resilient in the face of the original COVID-19 outbreak. This was borne out by the U.S. mortality statistics compiled over the period from February 2020 until February 2021.
The Delta variant of COVID-19 was first identified in India in December 2020, as major outbreaks of the mutated form of the virus took place in that country. The Delta variant then spread, and is now reported in 104 countries. It was first detected in the United States in March 2021.
The Delta variant is highly contagious, and has a demonstrated infectability extending to school age and preschool age children.
According to the National Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, there are four COVID-19 variants of concern, and the country in general, with specific pockets of greater intensity, is currently experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks from infection with SARS-CoV-2 Delta variants as of August 2021.
For that reason, at least some parents of children attending Needles Unified School District schools have challenged district officials’ decision to hold classes in which students are not required to mask up.
Reportedly, both Needles School District Superintendent Mary McNeil and Needles High School Principal Amy Avila have dismissed those parents’ objections, telling them that the state has infused in the district autonomy with regard to the policy relating to efforts to hinder the spread of the disease among the student population, and that the school board has given them authority with regard to decision-making on COVID-19 precautions. One parent quoted Avila as saying, “You can complain all you want. I run this school the way I want.”
The Sentinel’s efforts to reach McNeil and Avila were not successful by press time.
Earlier this summer, the California Department of Public Health issued an order for schools to send home students who refuse to wear masks indoors at schools. The California Public Health Department’s mask requirement differed from the recommendation issued by the Centers for Disease Control, which said only unvaccinated students and staff would be required to wear masks. The Centers for Disease Control had nevertheless stated local officials had discretion to impose additional protections as circumstances dictated.
Thereafter, the State of California issued what was termed a “guidance,” stating that schools “must exclude students from campus” who refused to wear a mask while indoors and who refuse to wear one that the school provides.
Within three days, the California Public Health Department’s mask requirement at schools was rescinded.
The State of California has since delivered another “guidance” recommending masking but indicating it is leaving it up to local school authorities to decide if and how to enforce precautions to take in the face of the coronavirus crisis.
Technically, a requirement that students and adults must wear masks inside school buildings still stands, but the state has advised school districts they have autonomy as to how to deal with noncompliant students.
Both the Association of California School Administrators and the California Teachers Association are in support of the masking requirement.
In Needles, where 863 or 39 percent of the city’s 2,214 voters are Republicans and 677 voters or 30.6 percent are Democrats, a laissez-faire attitude toward COVID-19 precautions prevails.
Many Needles residents, including the parents of children attending public schools there, feel the government has overreacted to the coronavirus crisis and has gone beyond its authority with restrictions and mandates.
Some parents of children in Needles, however, feel that the issue of precautions to be taken with regard to the original COVID-19 outbreak and the Delta mutation of the virus have been politicized, and that the safety of their children is paramount. Some are on the brink of pulling their children out of school if masking requirements are not enforced.

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