According to a new report, California officials went into preschools and separated children as young as two years old from teachers in order to interview them about mask-wearing without prior consent from parents.
Fox News reported that authorities from the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) went to all three locations of Aspen Leaf Preschool in January after getting a complaint that the school was not enforcing the state’s mask rule, per the CDSS’ response to a complaint by one of the preschool’s owners, Howard Wu.
“According to the CDSS letter, which Wu shared with Fox News Digital, officials with the agency’s Community Care Licensing Division entered the three preschool locations on Jan. 19, separated the children from their teachers and interviewed them privately about their masking practices,” the outlet noted.
“Every family we heard from after the inspections were furious about the interviews,” Wu told Fox News Digital. “We were open the whole pandemic about not masking children and the reasons why. The policy was on our website. Put simply, the mask guidance says children can NOT mask when eating and sleeping. In full day child care that’s 3 hours, so masking at other times offers no health benefit. All the families (except 1 in January) supported the policy.”
“We believe in good faith that the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction to enforce another agency’s mask guidance,” he said. “They could have issued us a citation in 5 minutes and let us take our challenge up through the proper channels. The simultaneous multi-school raids and the child interviews just felt like a power play.”
In its response to Wu, the CDSS argued that it has the authority to “enter and inspect a licensed child care facility at any time, with or without advance notice, to secure compliance with, or prevent a violation” of state laws, as well as “interview children without prior consent and, when necessary, conduct the interviews in private.”
“Based on their personal observations and interviews of the facility directors, staff and children, CCLD staff determined that the licensee failed to ensure that staff and children used face coverings as required by the State Public Health Officer Order of June 11, 2021, thus violating the children’s personal right to safe and healthful accommodations,” the letter said.
After the preschool closed briefly at the beginning of the pandemic, it reopened in June of 2020 and was open about not enforcing the state’s mask rule. The owners of the school pointed to the fact that children wouldn’t be permitted to wear masks while eating or sleeping, so a mask rule would be ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19. “On top of that, they didn’t believe the masks would be great for children’s development,” Voice of San Diego reported.
The outlet noted, “[Wu] believes the state’s child care licensing department doesn’t have the authority to enforce the mask mandate – essentially because of a technicality.”
In December, authorities came to the Aspen Leaf centers twice and saw that children were not wearing masks and were aware of the facility’s no-mask policy, per Wu. The officials didn’t put forward any citations or include in their report that the kids were mask-less, he noted. However, they sent him a reminder email a few days later telling him that children need to be wearing masks.
In January, a parent issued a complaint to the authorities, and an investigator gave Wu a call and asked him to impose the mandate. Wu explained his belief that regulators don’t have the ability to enforce the rule. Days later, the investigators came to the locations and carried out the controversial interviews with young children.
According to Voice of San Diego, the agency gave Aspen Leaf a Type A citation, which is the most serious kind of violation.
Voice of San Diego reported:
The California Department of Social Services and its child care licensing program oversee regulatory compliance in preschools. Child care licensing investigators do have the authority to interview children in isolated settings, but many Aspen Leaf parents said they believed such tactics were meant to be used in extreme cases, like alleged child abuse.
Regulators “determined that the interviews were conducted in an appropriate manner and were a necessary component of the required complaint investigation,” Kevin Gaines, deputy director of child care licensing, wrote to an Aspen Leaf parent, who put forward a complaint.
“Staff are trained to conduct interviews with children in a manner that avoids causing undue stress,” Gaines wrote, adding that an Aspen Leaf adult was in the “line of sight” of each interviewed child.
Wu believes that the preschool was unfairly targeted by the authorities because he pushed back on their authority.
“After it all happened I actually pulled every licensing report issued in California during the pandemic to get the data to show we were treated more harshly than any other center,” he told Fox News Digital.
Wu published the information on a website, stating, “California has a child care crisis,” adding “the child care licensing agency is making things worse.”
The preschool changed its mask rule to prevent being shut down. The state’s mask mandate for child care facilities is set to end on March 11, which is when Aspen Leaf will go back to its previous policy of no masks, according to Wu.
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