Covid Updates: New York City Will End Vaccine Mandate for Athletes

Credit…Caroline Brehman/EPA, via Shutterstock

Students in the Los Angeles Unified School District were allowed to attend class without masks for the first time in more than a year on Wednesday, after staff and administrators in the second-largest US school district reached a long-sought deal on the issue last week .

Masks are still strongly encouraged in classrooms, and students and staff will continue to be tested for the coronavirus weekly through the end of the school year, according to the agreement. But the lifting of one of the last large school district mask mandates in the country was another signal that leaders are trying to guide Americans back to some sense of normalcy.

“Now that this important issue is behind us, it is time to focus on each student’s full academic potential,” the district’s new superintendent, Alberto M. Carvalho, said in a statement.

California schools were shuttered longer than in many other states — which Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state leaders credited with saving lives, but which frustrated some parents and helped fuel an unsuccessful effort to oust the governor from office last year.

Throughout the pandemic, Los Angeles’s public schools have operated under particularly strict safety protocols negotiated by the district’s large, powerful teachers’ union.

Still, as case numbers have decreased and restrictions have been rapidly lifted across the United States, California and Los Angeles officials have rolled theirs back in recent weeks. A statewide school mask mandate was lifted on March 11, although individual districts could opt to keep their rules in place longer. In San Francisco, masks will no longer be required in all schools starting April 2.

On a sweltering Wednesday across the Los Angeles district, which covers more than 700 square miles, students, parents and educators said that normal now includes masks — just not all the time, and not on everyone.

“I will probably plan to keep mine on as long as it’s strongly recommended inside,” said Jennifer McAfee, an eighth-grade English teacher at Dodson Middle School in Rancho Palos Verdes. “As an educator, I feel like I’ve just gotten used to it, and as far as being able to read facial expressions, I’ve had to get better at looking at people’s eyes.”

ms. McAfee, who chatted during her brief lunch break, said that all but one of her students so far that day had been masked.

Veronica Sasso, principal of Franklin Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles’s Los Feliz neighborhood, grinned as she led the way through the halls just before dismissal.

“It’s good to slowly but surely begin to establish the post-pandemic routines,” she said.

For now, she said, she has enjoyed seeing the children’s “bright smiles.”

Shanna Vasquez had a lime green KN95-style mask on her wrist as she stood on the lawn outside the nearly century-old school watching her 6-year-old daughter, Stella, sprint back and forth with her classmates — some still donning masks, others not. The mask was Stella’s.

“I forgot mine — I stopped wearing it this week,” Ms. Vasquez said.

She said that her family was cautious throughout the pandemic, wearing masks and mostly staying home, but now that conditions are safer, they’re ready to “get back to normal” — or at least find a way to live with the virus. Although Ms. Vasquez said she’ll probably still bring a mask to the mall or other potentially crowded indoor spaces, she wants her newborn son to be able to recognize her face, because he hasn’t seen it with a mask on. She wants Stella to be able to play comfortably in the heat.

“You took your mask off in class?” she asked Stella, who took a break from her game. Stella nodded.

“I like no mask,” the girl said.

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