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Teacher, parent outcry leads Cayucos school board to rescind its Let Them Breathe resolution

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Jake Rideout was Cayucos Elementary School's librarian for the past nine years and taught a STEAM course for the last six. But when the school district's board of trustees passed a Let Them Breathe resolution last month, Rideout made the decision to leave the district.

"I loved that school," she told New Times. "It was such a tiny community, everybody knew everybody. One class of kids go all the way from kindergarten to eighth grade, which is such a magical thing."

Despite her otherwise positive experience, Rideout said she couldn't stand idly by when she heard the news that the resolution, which asked the state to remove COVID-19 masking requirements in schools, had passed.

"We didn't hear a word about [the resolution] until Aug. 2 when the ParentSquare [notification] came out with the information," Rideout said.

Two days later at the Aug. 4 board meeting, the resolution passed.

"Teachers definitely felt pretty blindsided by it," Rideout said.

A couple of days later, she resigned.

"I knew that if the board supported that track that I was not going to be coming back," Rideout said.

MASKS ON After hearing from a number of upset parents, the Cayucos Elementary School District board of trustees voted to rescind the Let Them Breathe resolution. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • MASKS ON After hearing from a number of upset parents, the Cayucos Elementary School District board of trustees voted to rescind the Let Them Breathe resolution.

A month after passing the resolution, the Cayucos Elementary School District board of trustees unanimously rescinded it at a Sept. 8 board meeting. But before it was rescinded, board President Chris Castillo confirmed in a Sept. 1 email that the board followed through on the resolution's commitment to "advocate in writing to the CDPH [California Department of Public Health] to remove mandatory requirements for preventative measures such as masks, quarantine, and asymptomatic testing."

Castillo also told New Times that there is 100 percent compliance with masking rules.

Some parents say otherwise. Cayucos parent Paul Andreano called Castillo's statement "100 percent not true."

"There has not been 100 percent compliance at Cayucos school with the mask mandate," Andreano said in a Sept. 2 email. "There have been instances of teachers not wearing masks as well as entire classes not wearing them while indoors. ... They are not enforcing the CDPH guidelines as they would have you believe."

Parent Erika Torres made similar allegations. She told New Times that when she picked her son up from the district's after-school program (ASP), masks were not being worn.

"At ASP, there were three occasions when ... there was a lack of masking and compliance, lack of following the California Department of Public Health guidelines that I personally observed, and I addressed that each time," Torres said. "Finally, after the third week of school, I told the principal I was no longer sending my son to ASP because I was worried about his safety."

Parent Craig Owens said at the Sept. 8 board meeting that there were already COVID-19 cases in his kids' classes.

"My son's seventh grade class, five of his classmates are in quarantine. Two are confirmed COVID-positive, and at least one is already sick with fever and sore throat," Owens said. "My daughter's fifth grade class, at least one child is in quarantine. My unvaccinated 10-year-old daughter's teacher was giving the class mask breaks to herself and her students until I complained to the principal and the teacher herself."

Owens told New Times that he doesn't fault the faculty. He thinks the onus falls on the board leadership.

"When they pass a resolution like Let Them Breathe, it makes it seem like masking isn't to be taken seriously," Owens said. "If people are on the fence, they're going to look to leadership to provide an example."

But, Owens added, "it definitely makes me feel better" that the resolution was rescinded.

"It's great that it's rescinded because it means, at the very least, maybe any teacher or faculty on the fence can say, 'Hey they rescinded this, so I'll wear mine then,'" Owens said. "Maybe it will sway somebody."

Owens added that when he brought mask noncompliance to the attention of the school administration, the situation was quickly remedied.

"I feel like the teachers and the principal are really doing a good job of listening to our concerns," Owens said. "I think it's very difficult to be the mask police. ... I can honestly say that they listened to me, and I really appreciate their efforts. I feel my concerns did not fall on deaf ears."

When asked to respond to parent claims about mask compliance, board President Castillo said, "I have heard nothing to make me change my initial statement."

Andreano, Torres, Owens, and dozens of other parents attended the Sept. 8 meeting. The board voted 5-0 to rescind Let Them Breathe, though some board members expressed that they still stand behind the concepts of mask choice and local control that the resolution promotes.

Parents who spoke at the meeting were split: Seven people during public comment supported rescinding the resolution, while six expressed support for parts of the resolution like mask choice, vaccine choice, and local control.

Parent Alisha Enns supported parental choice.

"If you want to mask your child, then I 100 percent respect your right as a parent to make that decision for your family, just like I respect your decision to get your child vaccinated," Enns said. "What I will not respect is your demand that I do the same for my children. ... A vote to rescind shows weakness and a willingness to cower to bullies."

As New Times reported on Sept. 2, SLO County Superintendent of Schools Jim Brescia said initial reports from schools since reopening show adherence to masking throughout the county. SLO County Public Health Department spokesperson Michelle Shoresman said schools face substantial legal, financial, and other risks if they do not follow masking requirements.

Former librarian Rideout said she feels for people on both sides of the debate. But she stands by her decision to resign.

"I do feel for the parents who want to protect their children from whatever mental health consequences there are from wearing a mask—I feel for that situation," Rideout said. "But I also think that the actual physical safety of students is paramount. I encourage parents to keep that in mind, that the greater good is wearing masks right now." Δ

Reach Staff Writer Malea Martin at mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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