A state agency in California allegedly conducted mask raids on a pre-school and interviewed children alone without parental consent. According to parents, the three locations of the Aspen Leaf preschool in San Diego were simultaneously "raided" in January. This after the school was forthright and clear with parents and regulators about their decision to not mask the young students in their care.
The Voice of San Diego reported that officials separated the preschoolers, aged one- to four-years-old, from each other and the adults at the locations to question the children about the school's masking policies.
In their decision to not mask the pre-schoolers, Aspen Leaf's owners believed that since the pre-schoolers would not be masked while eating or sleeping, there was no point masking them for the rest of the time, either. The owners also felt that the masks would hinder the children's development.
The California Department of Social Services is responsible for overseeing compliance in preschools. Though regulators legally have the authority to isolate and interview, children's parents at Aspen Leaf stated in a complaint that they believed that should only be done in extreme cases, such as alleged child abuse.
According to The Voice, Kevin Gaines, deputy director of child care licensing, wrote to one Aspen Leaf parent, who lodged a complaint, that regulators "...determined that the interviews were conducted in an appropriate manner and were a necessary component of the required complaint investigation."
He added that "Staff are trained to conduct interviews with children in a manner that avoids causing undue stress," and that Aspen Leaf adult staff were in the "line of sight" of each child during interviews.
However, the child care licensing department was not the agency that issued regulations on masks; rather, the California Department of Public Health issued the mask requirement. According to The Voice, owners claimed that if the state's health department tried to enforce the mask mandate, Aspen Leaf would have complied or considered if they had any recourse to fight it.
According to the owners, regulators inspected Aspen Leaf facilities twice in December and observed that the children weren't masked, but knew of the company's no-mask policy. No citations were issued after the visit, nor was it noted in the report that the children were maskless. However, the owners did receive an email several days later stating that the children were required to wear masks.
Following a parent complaint in January during the Omicron surge to the licensing authority, an investigator called the owners and asked him to enforce the mandate at which time he argued that regulators did not have the authority to enforce the mandate.
According to The Voice, several days later, regulators arrived at all three of Aspen Leaf's facilities, saw the maskless children, conducted the interviews, and issued a Type A citation.
Aspen Leaf reversed its policy to avoid potentially being shut down until March 11, when California's mask requirement for child care centers ends.
Aspen Leaf closed for a short time at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020. After the facilities re-opened in June, they were transparent about not enforcing the state's mask requirement.
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