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In-Depth: How school mask mandates may affect the Midterms

Posted at 6:16 PM, Jul 18, 2022

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – San Diego Unified School District’s new mask mandate is reigniting opposition from parents and advocacy groups who are promising to take their fight to the ballot box this November.

The district’s mask mandate took effect Monday after San Diego County reached the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's high-risk tier last week. SDUSD said it will review the policy in two weeks.

The change to San Diego Unified's mask policy, the first since April, came as several candidates for local schools boards began filing paperwork to run in the November elections.

“That exemplifies why many parents are stepping up to run. They feel that school boards have not listened to family’s concerns during the pandemic and not putting students first,” said Sharon McKeeman, a candidate for the Carlsbad Unified school board.

McKeeman gathered with other candidates backed by Let Them Breathe, a grassroots organization that opposes mandates and supports “mask choice.”

“The cloth masking of kids doesn't work in terms of stopping the transmission mitigation. And unfortunately, we keep running into roadblocks,” said Becca Williams, a candidate for San Diego Unified school board.

The consensus medical opinion is that masks do reduce COVID transmission in schools and do not stunt kids’ developmental growth, backed by studies from the National Institutes of Health.

Polling in February found 65 percent of California voters approved of mask mandates, with strong support from Democrats and strong opposition from Republicans.

But as the pandemic stretches on and families get accustomed to post-pandemic behavior, political analyst John Dadian thinks mask mandates could be an issue that crosses party lines.

“Last time I checked, parents are both Republicans and Democrats. And a lot of them on both sides of the aisle are part of the Let Them Breathe movement,” Dadian said. “People got a taste of what it was like to be under COVID. Now they got a taste of what it was like coming out of covid. They don’t want to go back. I think that’s going to be a very driving factor during the November elections.”

Ahead of the midterms, mask choice candidates and rallies have emerged from Washington state to Wisconsin. Some of those rallies got funding from national conservative organizations like Turning Point USA and a group with ties with Charles Koch.

Still, San Diego State University political scientist Dr. Stephen Goggin says he doesn’t think masks will be a big motivating factor in races at the top of the ticket, such as the races for the U.S. House and Senate.

“There are larger issues looming here, with inflation and many other things,” he said.

For now, Governor Gavin Newsom’s office said it will allow school districts to set their own mask policies, making mask mandates a local political issue, not a statewide one.