The Keenan Blog

Timely and informative posts written by our experts.


Face Coverings in California Schools

July 31, 2021 by Amy Donovan

On June 15, 2021, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released its Guidance for Face Coverings, which provided, concerning K-12 schools:

  • Masks are not required for fully vaccinated individuals, except in the following settings where masks are required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status:

This guidance may change as updated K-12 schools guidance is forthcoming, pending updates for K-12 operational guidance from the CDC.

On July 12, 2021, the CDPH updated and elaborated on the COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools. Concerning masks, the guidance states: 

  • Masks are optional outdoors for all in K-12 school settings.
  • K-12 students are required to mask indoors, with exemptions per CDPH face mask guidance.   Adults in K-12 school settings are required to mask when sharing indoor spaces with students.  
  • Persons exempted from wearing a face covering due to a medical condition must wear a non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge, as long as their condition permits it.
  • Schools must develop and implement local protocols to provide a face covering to students who inadvertently fail to bring a face covering to school to prevent unnecessary exclusions.
  • Consistent with guidance from the 2020-21 school year, schools must develop and implement local protocols to enforce the mask requirements. Additionally, schools should offer alternative educational opportunities for students excluded from campus because they will not wear a face covering. Note: Public schools should be aware of the requirements in AB 130 to offer independent study programs for the 2021-22 school year. 
  • In limited situations where a face covering cannot be used for pedagogical or developmental reasons (e.g., communicating or assisting young children or those with special needs) a face shield with a drape (per CDPH guidelines) can be used instead of a face covering while in the classroom, as long as the wearer maintains physical distance from others. Staff must return to wearing a face covering outside of the classroom.

Recently, we have received inquiries from some members regarding the potential liability risks for districts that chose not to comply with the CDHP mask mandate for K-12 schools. We are aware that COVID-19 creates great uncertainty and poses new issues for schools, hospitals, businesses, and others. However, managing risks is almost always a matter of finding and applying what is generally considered the best practice for the risk being presented.When risks are related to human health, the risk management community relies upon official government sources for identifying specific risk mitigation techniques that have been thoroughly vetted as being the most reasonably effective way to control the hazard.In the case of COVID-19, those sources are the CDPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We recommend that school districts follow their guidance.Coverage for any claims arising out of a district’s failure to do so will be dependent on the specific circumstances involved.


About Amy Donovan
Amy is Keenan's Vice President of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, authoring the firm's Briefings and position papers on legislation, regulation and litigation that have an impact on the firm and its clients.