LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Unified School District — the largest U.S. school district still requiring masks for staff and students — announced Friday that it will lift the mandate as COVID-19 infection rates continue to plunge.
The nation’s second-largest school district said it will drop the requirement by next Wednesday after reaching an agreement with the teachers union, although other virus safety measures such as weekly testing will remain in place through the school year.
LAUSD has more than 600,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The nation’s largest district, New York City, ended its mask mandate on March 7, except for classrooms that serve kids younger than 5, who aren’t yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.
United Teachers Los Angeles had balked at ending the school mask mandate until a large majority of students and staff had been vaccinated. That frustrated some parents who saw the state, Los Angeles County and many local districts dropping their mandates, and small demonstrations have been held in recent weeks at several schools.
However, the county is still recommending that masks be worn at schools.
“I want to personally thank our students, employees and families for their support and patience,” LAUSD Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said in a statement. “We know some in our school communities and offices will continue to wear masks, while others may not. Please consider your situation and do what is best for you or your child.”
The move comes as California emerges from a deadly winter COVID-19 surge fueled by the omicron variant. Public health officials say widespread vaccinations have helped drive down caseloads and hospitalizations. The state on Friday reported that that daily average of new cases over seven days was 6.5 per 100,000 people. That compares with a case rate of 72.4 cases per 100,000 in December.
The state also says 83.6% of the population has been vaccinated.
On Friday, the California Department of Public Health announced that as of April 1, people attending indoor concerts, sporting events and other “mega events” drawing crowds of 1,000 or more won’t have to show proof that they have been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19.
However, event holders can decide to continue the requirements, which health officials said are strongly recommended.