Teacher Shortage Forces School Closure After Lifting Student Mask Mandate

A California school was forced to shut down on Friday for a second day in a row because of teachers' absences after the student mask mandate was lifted.

Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley, California, announced on its website that it will close due to a shortage of teachers. The announcement comes after the school district's board on Tuesday voted to end the mask mandate for students, CBS 13 reported.

Teachers were also absent on Wednesday, which led to hundreds of students to stay in a school theater to watch a film instead of being in a classroom, according to the news outlet.

"Our problem is not about masking, rather it is that our school board voted in direct violation of our MOU [agreements] with them and disregarded the collective bargaining process," Eric Mayer, president of the Nevada Joint Union High School Teachers Association, told Newsweek on Friday.

In an open letter posted Thursday, Mayer said, "The resolution to change mask enforcement was passed. Teachers present in the room and on Zoom were shocked because this directly violated the agreements the board approved with both the teachers' union and the classified employees' union."

He added that those agreements state that masks are required in indoor settings and "if any changes in masking requirements were handed down by state officials, we would renegotiate the agreement at that time."

California's mask wearing guidelines requires indoor mask-wearing across all K-12 schools.

Mayer told Newsweek that the association met with site and district administration on Friday in hopes to bring back teachers on campus on Monday.

"We did come up with a set of assurances and actions by the district that they are working to clarify to offer teachers with the goal of opening on Monday," he said.

Kelly Rhoden, the school's principal, said in a letter sent out to parents that the school is working with the district administration and the teachers union to resolve the issue, KCRA 3 reported.

"It is our top priority to get students back in the classroom to further their education as soon as possible. We will be working closely with the teachers union and the district administration to find a quick resolution to our current situation," Rhoden said. "We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and support as we work through these challenges."

California lifted its mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals, but stated that students and school staff were still required to wear masks.

Students were sent home in many schools if they didn't comply with the requirement, even though some school districts were defying the mandate and imposing optional mask wearing instead. California is expected to review its mask mandate for schools on Monday.

"Teachers have called out because I think we're being put in a plausible position of either disobeying our district or disobeying the state mandate. And our credential is dependent on upholding the law," Mayer said, according to KCRA 3.

However, Brett McFadden, the superintendent of the Nevada Joint Union High School District noted that the mask policy had to be changed.

"We began to experience significant civil disobedience by that of students and parents," he said, according to CBS 13. "The enforcement ability of the mask mandate came to a point where it was untenable."

Teacher Shortage Forces School Closure
Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley, California, had to close for a second day in a row due to teacher shortages. Above, a masked student receives an in-person lesson at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on January 5 in New York City. Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Students are entitled to 180 days of instruction a year, according to the California Department of Education. Schools who don't meet this requirement could risk losing state funding.

Some students at the high school expressed their concerns about the lack of teachers in classrooms. One student noted that it has been difficult to cope with the changing school response to COVID.

"It's just been stressful as a student. It's hard with distance learning and then you come back to school and then you're distanced and then you have to wear a mask, too now, but kids aren't comfortable with wearing a mask. Being put in the middle of just trying to learn makes it tough," 11th grader James Kinney said, according to KCRA 3.

Newsweek contacted the Nevada Union High School and the school district for comments and will update the story once a response is received.

The story has been updated to include additional information and comments from Eric Mayer, president of the Nevada Joint Union High School Teachers Association.