By Julie Watts

ROSEVILLE (CBS13) — It’s masks off for at least 50 kids in Placer County school districts. Sources tell CBS13 that dozens of students were given medical exemptions—the majority of them coming from Dr. Michael Huang in Roseville.

Some parents are concerned those exemptions aren’t legitimate, but Dr. Huang insists they are.

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“The mask exemption letter, the one we do provide each every one of them, is after careful clinical exam and given appropriately,“ he said.

We asked Michelle Ekland of the Placer County Office of Education if there are legitimate reasons for these mask exemptions.

“Absolutely, There are students that legitimately need Mask exemption forms due to a medical condition, a mental health condition, a disability or hearing impairment. That’s why the process exists,” she said.

Ekland says the significant number of exemptions from just one doctor has raised concerns about their legitimacy and prompted complaints to county and state agencies and the medical board.

“So school administrators, teachers, they’re not in a position to question medical diagnoses, but they are required to follow guidance, which requires masks in the classroom,” Ekland said.

The problem is the guidance for these exemptions isn’t exactly clear. In fact, it wasn’t until Friday that the California Department of Public Health clarified that an exemption must come from a licensed doctor—and Dr. Huang is licensed.

We asked Herbet if an exemption from a licensed doctor is legitimate until it’s determined otherwise.

“That’s the current understanding,” he said. “The state hasn’t given us any guidance as to how to interpret these exemptions.”

Dr. David Herbert, president and CEO of Sutter Independent Physicians, says while it’s possible to have dozens of valid exemptions from one doctor, it is statically unlikely.

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“It’s difficult or impossible to determine if an individual exemption is, in fact, legitimate without doing an expert review of the medical records, which, of course, is not something that we can do because of privacy regulations,”

State guidance does allow districts to implement additional protocols to verify exemptions, but no one could tell us what those protocols might be considering student medical information is largely protected.

Remember, the legislature did pass a law creating a review body for vaccine exemptions. There is now talk about creating a similar process for masks. But we’re just a few days into the school year, so there are still a lot of unknowns.

CDPH did not respond to our request for clarification today but the Placer County Office of Education provided the following statement:

“We’ve been made aware that several student mask exemption forms have been received in our districts which have all been signed by one local physician, and that’s cause for concern.

“Administrators aren’t in a position to question medical diagnosis, but under the current statewide emergency order, school districts are required to follow guidance from CDPH which states they must develop and implement local protocols to enforce the mask requirements. As part of that protocol, school districts can implement an additional verification or confirmation step when they receive these exemptions.

“It puts our teachers, school leaders and our districts in a tough position once again when our responsibility is to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

“Guidance from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is clear – ‘Assessing for exemption due to a medical condition, mental health condition, disability that prevents wearing a mask, or hearing impairment is a medical determination and therefore must be made by a physician, nurse practitioner, or other licensed medical professional practicing under the license of a physician.’

“Additionally, the CDPH Safe School for All Technical Assistance Team has clarified that nothing in the guidance, as interpreted by the FAQs, restricts local school districts from implementing an additional verification or confirmation step when they receive student mask exemptions.

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“Complaints can be reported and filed through the California Safe Schools for All Hub at or through the state COVID hotline at 1-833-422-4255.”

Julie Watts