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California conducted 'mask raids' on preschools, separated and interviewed young children without consent

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California officials recently conducted so-called "mask raids" at preschools in the San Diego area, triggering outrage among parents who learned their toddlers had been separated from adults and interviewed by state regulators.

What happened?

Just a little more than a week before California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) was caught in violation of mask rules, officials with the California Department of Social Services visited each of Aspen Leaf Preschool's three San Diego-area locations after being tipped off that the preschools were skirting the statewide mask mandate.

Furious parents have described the visits as "mask raids," Voices of San Diego reported. The raids were conducted on Jan. 19 by the CDSS's Community Care Licensing Division.

Aspen Leaf owner Howard Wu described the incident to Fox News as a "simultaneous, multi-school raid" that included "unnecessary and inappropriate child interviews." Children as young as 2 years old were reportedly separated from adults and interviewed by state regulators without parental consent.

In an official complaint lodged with the state, parents said:

  • "I do not feel this interview served my child’s safety or well-being ... and I believe it may have given a harmful impression about her obligations to speak with strange adults in private without known caretakers present."
  • "I understand that while the licensing agency is authorized to conduct private interviews with the children — this authority was put in place and intended for use when there is a situation of possible abuse, which is ENTIRELY absent from this situation. Therefore, this agency has blatantly overstepped their authority."
  • "Frustrated. Angry. Aghast. Confused. These are only a few of the words that describe what we felt as parents of a 3.5 year old who was questioned by government officials at his preschool regarding mask-wear indoors."

According to Wu, the preschool has never enforced California's mask mandate. Considering children would not be wearing a mask when eating or napping — two activities that consume a substantial amount of a toddler's life — the preschool thought enforcing the mask mandate would be pointless.

What did the state say?

State regulators issued Aspen Leaf a Type A citation, the most severe type a preschool could receive, Voices of San Diego reported.

The CCLD responded to concerned parents in a March 1 letter defending its actions:

We want to ensure you that CCLD takes seriously its responsibility of ensuring the health and safety of children in licensed child care facilities. It is for this reason that CCLD spoke with your child.

CCLD has confirmed that conversations with children during the complaint investigation were conducted with Aspen Leaf staff present or within line of sight of Aspen Leaf staff. CCLD has determined that the interviews were conducted in an appropriate manner and were a necessary component of the required complaint investigation.

A licensing evaluator is respectful of a child’s choice to answer questions. If at any point during an interview a child expresses or exhibits apprehension or discomfort, the interview is discontinued.

To avoid being shut down, Aspen Leaf complied with the state mask mandate, which ends March 11. At that time, the preschool will revert to its old policy.

Still, Wu believes the CDLD did not have the legal authority to enforce the state's mask mandate because it was not the issuing agency; the California Department of Public Health issued the mandate.

"We believe in good faith that the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction to enforce another agency’s mask guidance," Wu told Fox News. "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."

However, CCLD claimed it had 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, and to "interview children without prior consent and, when necessary, conduct the interviews in private."

Aspen Leaf is appealing the state's citation.

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