Bonita Unified School District will welcome students back to school on Aug. 23 –– but not without a fight over mask mandates.
In February, the BUSD Board of Education passed a resolution affirming compliance with all COVID-19 health and safety mandates.
A rally to protest mask mandates was held outside of the district office on Wednesday, Aug. 4. Parents and their children gathered, holding signs promoting health freedom and mask choice.
About 40 mask choice advocates attended the school board meeting later that afternoon.
Mask choice protests are popping up at school board meetings throughout the state, even as public health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health maintain that masking is an effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19.
After Los Angeles County mandated an indoor masking requirement on July 18, a rise in COVID-19 cases slowed significantly.
“This serves as a reminder that masking remains an effective way to slow transmission,” LA County Public Health stated in an Aug. 5 press release.
The highly infectious delta variant has been credited with causing a recent surge in cases. San Dimas saw an increase of 79 positive cases and one death during the last week, totaling 3,442 positive cases and 94 deaths since March 2020, according to data from LA County Public Health.
Jessica Perkins, a mother of two Bonita Unified students and a proponent of mask choice, attended the rally then addressed the school board during the meeting.
“If somebody wants to send their child [to school] with a mask, then I believe they have every right to do so. But they’re infringing on our rights when they start telling us that if we don’t have a mask on our child, they will be excluded from school,” Perkins said in an interview after the meeting.
“It is unsafe mentally and emotionally and physically for my child to be wearing a mask.”
BUSD Governing Board Member Krista Chakmak, who has openly opposed masking during the COVID-19 pandemic, addressed the crowd saying she would be pulling her children out of the district and resigning from her position as a school board member.
“I will never be OK with mandating masks,” Chakmak said. “I will never be OK with supporting mandatory COVID vaccines or tests on children or employees.”
Chakmak criticized recent state and county mandates, such as mask requirements, that provide little flexibility for local school districts and have frustrated some parents, including many in attendance.
“I see a California that has and continues to remove parental choice. Although I am uncertain of many things, I am certain that I, and we as parents, know what is best for our children. Bureaucrats in Sacramento don’t, and this board doesn’t.”
A majority of the community members who spoke during the meeting echoed Chakmak’s sentiments, and she was given a standing ovation after her comments.
“I felt very sad that we were losing the one person who I believe was advocating for the parents to have a choice,” Perkins said.
In order to formalize her resignation, Chakmak will need to give written notice to the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools. Then, the remaining board members will have 60 days to make a provisional appointment or hold an election to fill the vacant seat.
Superintendent Carl Coles, who facilitated filling board vacancies in 2017 and 2020, said the board has not yet discussed how they will move forward with finding Chakmak’s replacement.
“At this time, I don’t have an effective date of the resignation,” Coles said.
While the district plans to comply with current COVID-19 mask mandates in the fall, Perkins hopes enforcement will be limited.
“Some schools say they are not going to enforce it, and that’s what we’re encouraging our district to do.”
Chloe Beougher, mother of two BUSD students, one of whom has an autoimmune disease, said Chakmak’s comments were irresponsible and put her family at risk.
“Maybe they don’t need to mask. Maybe they are perfectly healthy. Other people are not, and they don’t think about them.”
Chakmak did not respond to requests for comment.