Most of us don’t enjoy wearing a face mask, but for 9-year-old Kamdin Hernandez a face mask is an almost unbearable distraction and wearing one for hours on end makes him feel anxious and, in his words, “stressed out.” Kamdin tried to the best of his ability to wear the mask during the first half of this school year at Garden Grove Elementary School in Simi Valley, California, but told teachers on multiple occasions that he has ADHD and wearing the mask made him feel stressed out and he couldn’t think and couldn’t do his work with the mask on. Still, school staff called him “rude and disrespectful,” refused to allow him to check out library books, and one teacher even physically pulled the mask up over his nose on one occasion. The school district ignored his parents’ complaints. So when Kamdin returned to campus in early January, he decided he wasn’t going to wear the mask, period.
That’s when things got very heated, very quickly. Kamdin’s been forced to sit on the playground field alone to do his schoolwork, endured taunting to “just wear your mask!” from his classmates as teachers watched and did nothing, was physically blocked from entering his classroom by the principal, been locked out of his classroom by his teacher, listened as school authorities threatened to call CPS if his father didn’t take him home for refusing the mask, counted truant for five of those days he endured the bullying and intimidation, and now “excluded” from going on his school campus because the principal has determined that his presence constitutes a “clear and present danger” to the health and safety of students and staff.
Yes, that’s a lot to keep up with. Imagine being a 9-year-old who’s lived under California’s draconian pandemic restrictions for two years (20 percent of his life!The one who wants to return to being a child and keep up the pace.
Sadly, that’s just what Kamdin has dealt with in January. In parts two and three of this series we’ll go through what the last year or so has been like for Kamdin at school.
How did we get to this point?
According to Kamdin’s dad, Tim Hernandez, and a doctor’s note reviewed by RedState, Kamdin was diagnosed with ADHD in 2018. The doctor recommended that the family pursue an IEP or Section 504 Plan for Kamdin, but Hernandez said Kamdin’s teachers at that time worked with them to ensure Kamdin’s educational needs were still met and “even when he has been on medication and trying different doses they have always been in contact with me and supportive of helping him in any way they can.”
During the pandemic shutdowns Kamdin struggled with “distance learning,” as one would expect given his age and ADHD. Starting in November 2020 Kamdin’s district, Simi Valley Unified School District (SVUSD), allowed elementary school students on campus for 2.5 hours a day and required masks for that age group even though state guidelines didn’t require them. Hernandez stated that Kamdin was unable to wear the mask at the time.
“They were not in a full day of in-person instruction when he first started having to wear a mask at school. He was still upset by it and had returned home several times. One day he had a breakdown, crying about it, because the staff were yelling at him to keep his mask up in 90 degree weather while playing outside and running around.”
When the 2021-2022 school year started Kamdin almost immediately had problems with wearing the mask “properly,” and was sent home only about an hour into the school day on the third day of school. A teacher who was sent to Kamdin’s room to attempt to persuade him to wear the mask told Hernandez that when she asked him why he wouldn’t wear it, “His response was that he’s got ADHD, he’s got – he’s stressed out with the mask on. He can’t think, and he can’t do his work.”
We now reach Friday, January 7, 2022. Hernandez said this on the same day.
[Kamdin’s]The teacher told him that he had one minute to obey her demands or else she would call the principal. When he didn’t meet her demands the principal came over and physically blocked him from entering the classroom, moving side to side. We were then called to bring him back after he was kept outside.
Kamdin, who was not wearing a mask to school on Monday January 10, sent email to his mother begging for her help at 9:08AM and 9:31AM.
Alarmed, Mrs. Hernandez says she called the school four times (9:34 am, 9:57 am, 10:34 am, and 11:39 am) to talk to the principal but was told that the principal was not available and didn’t receive a return phone call until 2:20 pm. Mr. Hernandez tells RedState:
Our son was kept in a seperate room. [that day]Perryman was by him, [Assistant Superintendent]Hani Youssef [Director of Elementary Education]Julie Ellis sat outside, on a bench. It was told to us after by our son that they allowed kids to yell through the classroom thing such as, “Just wear your mask,” and upon leaving the classroom students were told to not look at him.
Kamdin refused to go to school on January 11th because he was so upset. He stayed at home. However, the family received both an email and a letter from Principal Perryman stating that Kamdin wouldn’t be allowed to attend in-person school “until he is willing to follow state and county orders” and that his continued refusal “may” result in him being enrolled in an Independent Study program – which is clearly a problem for a child with ADHD. Perryman claims that Kamdin physically tried to push his teacher out of the way to get into the classroom.
Under California Department of Public Health guidelines, all students K-12 are required to wear masks while indoors, but doesn’t mandate that students who refuse to wear masks be excluded from campus. Instead, Gov. Newsom’s office says, the 2021-2022 revision “allows local school officials to decide how to deal with students who refuse to wear masks” and gives “local officials…discretion about how to enforce the mask mandate.”
In addition, nothing in CDPH’s guidance “requires, directs, or otherwise authorizes schools to force
students into an independent study program” against their wishes.
RedState obtained documents that show district officials had asked Kamdin on several occasions whether a medical exemption was available for him wearing a mask. The family replied that Kamdin needed to be exempted because of ADHD, which caused him to have trouble thinking and doing his work. Kamdin did not have an Individualized Education Plan or Section 504 Plan in place or in progress at that time, but since there’s documentation that Principal Perryman knew at least as of August 13, 2021 that Kamdin had ADHD (and most likely before since the fact that Kamdin was medicated would have been noted in enrollment paperwork) and it was severely impacting his ability to perform tasks at school, the district was required to request that Kamdin be evaluated to receive services.
Ellis actually admitted that in an email to Hernandez dated February 2, 2022. (emphasis on added).
Let me follow-up with you on a statement that you made at Garden Grove Elementary. Kamdin’s current situation and our conversation at Garden Grove Elementary, you mention that Kamdin has Attention Deficit hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) along with dealing with anxiety. Then, I asked if the school had addressed these issues and/or provided additional documentation. Kamdin should wear a face mask indoors. We discussed this and you said that Kamdin’s doctors wouldn’t be willing to issue a notice granting Kamdin an exemption.
You have informed the District that Kamdin has ADHD. The District must then determine whether Kamdin is disabled as per Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act of 1973.For your consideration, I have attached an assessment plan. If you would please sign and return the assessment plan, it will start an assessment process that would help identify your son’s strengths and potential weaknesses in school and it would determine if Kamdin is eligible for a Section 504 plan as a student with a disability. A Section 504 meeting will take place at the conclusion of the assessment to discuss the results and determine eligibility. If eligible, the team will develop an intervention plan for Kamdin’s success in school.
Ellis mentions in that email that Ellis asked Hernandez whether he had raised these concerns with school officials and/or provided more documentation. From those comments it seems plausible that Perryman never informed the district office that Hernandez was claiming that an ADHD-related inability to concentrate and perform school work when masked was the reason for Kamdin’s refusal to wear a mask. And obviously the longer the conflict on campus regarding the mask goes on, the more anxious and “stressed out” the child would become.
But that doesn’t excuse Perryman’s actions. In recorded speakerphone conversations provided to RedState that took place on August 13 when Hernandez was being contacted to pick up his son at school for refusal to wear a mask, it’s clear that Perryman was informed of the reasoning. It is Garden Grove Elementary’s teacher who initiates the conversation.
The next conversation is just minutes later with Principal Perryman.
But even if she hadn’t been informed, Perryman has the ability to refer any student she believes might have a disability, meaning a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including learning,” to the Section 504 Site Chairperson, according to SVUSD’s Section 504 Service Plan Handbook.
And if that seemed too overwhelming, SVUSD offers a Student Success Team to help struggling students.
When a student is exhibiting academic, attendance, social and/or behavioral problems the student’s school will convene a Student Success Team (“SST”) meeting. The purpose of the SST is to investigate the needs of the student…
It’s important to note that a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD is considered a “red flag” for a district to consider Section 504 supports.
Kamdin was not wearing his mask on January 12th and was therefore denied entry to the school. Then Youssef and Perryman arrived, according to Hernandez, and instructed Kamdin to “grab his things and that his dad was picking him up and the three of them escorted our 4th grader to the exit.”
January 13th he was again denied access by means of Mrs. Perryman’s body. Hani Youssef and Mrs. Perryman told him, “We need to remove you off campus.” [Kamdin]He replied that he was only there to get an education, and asked Mrs. Perryman whether he could continue his weekly studies. [she] replied “No, you must wear a mask.” He spent the entire day, from 8:15 to 1:05, outside being watched from a far distance by Hani Youssef.
Hernandez was outside the fencing when he went to the school and recorded a short video on his Instagram to document what was going on.
Later, Kamdin reported to his father that Youssef “held a ball over[his] head like a bully would with one hand demanding he answer his questions.” At the very end of the school day Kamdin was finally given the work he’d missed that entire week. Hernandez believes that work was only given to him because he’d posted that video on Instagram noting that his son didn’t have any of his school work.
On Friday, January 14, Hernandez filmed an interaction between himself, the school resource officer, Youssef, and Ellis in which he was told that he had to take his son home because he wouldn’t mask and they didn’t have enough personnel to have someone watch Kamdin.
When Hernandez replied that he wanted his son to remain and receive an education, reiterating that both he and Kamdin had informed school teachers and administrators that Kamdin couldn’t wear a mask due to his ADHD and anxiety/stress, he was told that if he didn’t take him home the school would call Child Protective Services. Hernandez says:
Multiple family members had been called by them, claiming they couldn’t get hold of me or my spouse to pick him up. I was at school. You can clearly see that they told me CPS will be calling them if my son doesn’t want school to continue. It is very disturbing to see the district using CPS to get compliance from 4th graders. Kamdin ended up leaving this day before lunch because when he was playing with the kids and staff member had told them before not to play with him because he was an “antimasker.”
Hernandez also asked Youssef to discuss the interaction of the ball and Hernandez.
The next school day, Tuesday, January 18, 2022, Kamdin’s entire class met outside so Kamdin could participate. Hernandez felt hopeful about the progress being made. Hernandez went out to check on the situation the following day. Hernandez found that many mothers had left unhappy because their children were being taught outside. Kamdin was not able to receive in-person instruction the other days of January.
Kamdin and his dad, as well as several residents, addressed the SVUSD Board of Trustees at their monthly meeting on January 18. They shared their frustrations with the situation. Kamdin raised the issue with Assistant Superintendent Youssef about the ball. However, the audio from the official video (around 38:55) does not contain the audio.
“How is it okay for Hani [Mr. Youssef]To hold a football over my head, and force me to answer questions? How is it okay for Mrs. Perryman to block me off from entering my classroom?”
Kamdin’s family was informed by another letter on the same day that Kamdin could not attend school. This letter cited California Education Code Section 48213 as well as the fact that principals can exclude students who pose a risk to their health or safety.
Youssef, as shown in the above illustration on page 2 of January 18, 18th letter states:
“It is also important to note that the requirement to wear face coverings indoors has been in place for some time now and Kamdin was complying with the mandate successfully until he returned from the winter break.”
However, in documents reviewed by RedState it’s apparent Youssef knew that Kamdin had not been successful in complying with the mandate all year long – especially since his parents had filed a complaint with the district about bullying, harassment, and retaliation they claim school staff subjected Kamdin to in August, and which is now on appeal to the California Department of Education (more on that in Part 2).
Then on January 20 they received a letter from the district stating that Kamdin had been “excluded from school since January 7, 2022” and offering alternative educational arrangements – but not mentioning anything about a Section 504 Evaluation.
Kamdin, who was not wearing a face mask on that day, had already been expelled from school. The school called at 10:32 stating that Kamdin “had to be picked up and signed out,” according to Hernandez, so he “showed up at the school to pick him up outside where there were two yard duties escorting and ushering him out, showing him he can leave through the front gate.” Hernandez is not allowed on campus other than by standing at the flagpole to wait for his child – the school’s “accommodation” for the disabled veteran’s medical exemption from mask-wearing – so Hernandez had to choose whether to attempt to sign Kamdin out as the voicemail requested and risk being threatened with a trespassing charge or walking away since school officials had walked Kamdin to the gate. He chose to walk away, and Perryman later cited that as a failure to follow the school’s guidelines for student release.
Then on January 21 Hernandez received another letter from the district informing them that under Section 48213 Perryman had determined that Kamdin’s mere presence in an un-masked state constituted a “clear and present danger” to the health and safety of the other students and staff (despite the fact that he’s had no current known exposure to COVID-19 and is exhibiting no symptoms), and that until he signed a “behavioral contract” to fully obey the mask mandate (which could be inappropriate for a child with a disability) he was “excluded” from in-person school and that neither he nor his father were permitted to be present on school grounds.
On January 28, Perryman wrote a truant note to Hernandez. Yes, a truant letter, stating that on 1/10, 1/11, 1/12, 1/13, and 1/14 – the week in which Hernandez posted two videos of himself and Kamdin at the school and Kamdin being physically separated from his classmates – Kamdin was marked absent without a valid excuse. The district’s earlier letter stated that Kamdin had been expelled from school from January 7, 2022. This is clearly inconsistent.
RedState reached out to Dr. Hani Itsef, SVUSD, with a long list of questions about these incidents. The student confidentiality laws prohibit him from commenting on details and the ongoing investigation prevented him from giving any further information. However, he provided this statement.
Simi Valley United School District is responsible for protecting all children who come to our school and their families. We take our educational partnership with our families seriously, and we honor and respect the trust and faith given to us by our families–all of our families.
To best serve and protect every child who comes to us, we must adhere to all the applicable laws and standards. We aren’t public health professionals, politicians or medical doctors. Our expertise and dedication are in education.
We have and will follow these mandates. They apply to every California school district and school. These mandates were not created by us. Our courts made it clear that we do not have the right to choose and follow which mandates. We cannot disregard, alter or ignore these mandates.
Each of the five members elected to school board are responsible for 16,000 students’ and 2200 employee health and safety. These five elected school board members are legal and can be held personally responsible for any violations of state and local regulations. They too take the responsibility that they have for each child and their families. These rules are not theirs to make, but they will ensure they are respected, according to local, state, and federal law.
We don’t want to see our schools closed or be subject to any other punitive measures because we haven’t followed any laws or mandates. We also don’t want anything to distract us from our primary mission, to provide the best educational opportunities for every child coming to us.
If you are unhappy with the mandates, it is best to express your frustration to the decision-makers. The state and county health authorities have the power to modify or eliminate these mandates that were created in various emergency orders. We, Simi Valley Unified Schools District, don’t have this authority as a local school district. Families are welcome to share their opinions and concerns with us. We must all work together as educational partners to help students achieve their full potential.
While many will disagree with Youssef’s assessment of the level of flexibility the district has in enforcement and implementation, he is correct that parents and others concerned with what’s going on in California’s or the nation’s classrooms need to make their voices heard and join in the debate. In speaking with various “mask choice” and education advocates while researching this piece, I was told that perhaps a dozen school districts in the state have made masks optional because their families overwhelmingly wanted that freedom. However, their “masks optional” policies are not codified or advertised because they fear the long arm of CDPH coming for them, and we all know CDPH and Gavin Newsom would love nothing more than to make an example of some rebellious districts.
But given Newsom’s ongoing flouting of the mandates – and blatant lies about his own actions – isn’t it time for parents and districts to all band together and say, “Enough”? Everyone’s waiting for someone else to be the first one to stick their neck out. Is it possible to believe that Newsom will shut down every school district which makes masks mandatory? No.
What Newsom and school districts should also consider is that for every Kamdin, every courageous young student who stands up for their rights, there are many more suffering silently, forcing themselves to “deal” with the anxiety and panicked feelings, shuffling through the school day and learning nothing, and sinking into depression. Will educators seek those students out and really feel what they’re going through and find the courage to stand for them?
(EDITOR’S NOTE: As many of our long-time readers know, I am a resident of Simi Valley. I also graduated from SVUSD schools. I am the mother of a student who has had an IEP and a Section 504 Plan throughout his career. While I don’t know the parents, teachers, or administrators involved in this story (though I have met Dr. Youssef at community events once or twice), I do know many teachers and administrators in the district and two members of the Board of Trustees personally and the vast majority of them work diligently to provide students with a great education and solid community and emotional support. I hope Kamdin will soon be able to attend school with teachers and principals who truly care about his interests.