Downey, Lynwood schools drop indoor mask mandates

By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

Two Southeast area schools district — Downey and Lynwood — have aligned with the county’s Public Health Department and dropped indoor masks mandates, but plan to maintain regular screenings to monitor transmissions caused by current and new COVID variants.

The districts pushed to bring a sense of normalcy to school activities and cited county reports that confirm a continuous decline in new infections coupled with rising vaccination rates in the region.

Both districts embraced a policy recommended by the county’s Public Health Department that strongly recommends a steady mask use indoors as the COVID-19 pandemic lurches forward.

Lynwood Superintendent Gudiel Crosthwaite announced the end of the mask mandate effective March 14, and said the decision was based on fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations and more inoculations.

“Throughout the past two years, we have aligned our decision-making and safety protocols with the [Public Health Department] guidelines and recommendations to protect the health of students and staff,” Crosthwaite said. “We feel confident in continuing that process, but will continue to take additional measures to safeguard schools.”

Among the controls deployed at Lynwood schools, Crosthwaite said high grade K95 and KN95 masks will be available for all students and staff who request them.

The district also plans to keep the nurses it hired for each of its 18 campuses when in-person classes returned last summer, continue to operate additional air filter stations in all classrooms and extended its partnership with medical providers to make COVID-19 vaccines available to everyone.

As district policy, Lynwood Unified will provide COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and notify staff and their families when tests show positive. The district plans to extend the campaign to encourage residents to get vaccinated and remind staff and students to quarantine if they show symptoms.

Rapid COVID tests is another tool in the arsenal to help staff and students determine if they have been exposed, and if they may need isolation.

On issues of bullying due to uneasiness from students and workers to remove masks indoors, Crosthwaite encouraged the Lynwood community to foster an environment of tolerance “that makes each person feel comfortable.”

“As we transition to these new guidelines, I also want to emphasize the need to respect the personal decisions of staff and students when it comes to masking,” he said.

Downey Unified also aligned with the county’s recommendation to drop mask mandates and make them optional for students and staff starting March 14, and requested tolerance for those still willing to wear face coverings.

“I want to make sure that we are understanding that again, masks continue to be recommended but they are not mandatory,” Downey Superintendent John Garcia said. “And I want to remind all of us that regardless of whatever personal choice that a student or a family makes, to continue to be respectful to one another, at all times.”

Public information officer Ashley Greaney said the Downey district has a program called Six Pillars of Character that helps address and avert potential bullying among students, and has been effective at personal interactions throughout the pandemic.

Greaney said Downey had not reported cases of bullying tied to COVID-19 safety protocols.

“We recognize character counts, and that applies in all [grade] levels,” Greaney said. “We are lucky. We are aware of other districts that experienced bullying linked to the pandemic, but not us.”

She underscored that the district is ready with all tools in place if cases rise again due to new virus variants.

Garcia said the district will continue its daily screening protocols at least through the start of spring break on April 11, and bring it back on April 18, with no expiration date announced.

“We feel like the daily screener is an important part of what it is we’re doing, in regards to symptoms and what’s happening,” Garcia added.