The owner of a California preschool says that state officials interviewed young children about the school’s masking policy without consent from their parents.

California officials reportedly went into preschools and separated children as young as two years old from teachers in order to interview them about mask-wearing. Fox News reported that Department of Social Services employees 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. 

“Everyone is really mad and then there’s a core group of parents, especially some of the ones whose children were interviewed privately … there’s a group that has been really engaged, and they’ve been pressing to just get some answers again, from all levels of the Department up to the directors of the entire Department of Social Services, and they’ve just been ignored,” Wu told The Daily Wire this week.

Wu added, “Now, it’s kind of gone even past just the issue of the child interviews where people are angry that this government agency, it just seems like they’re not working for anybody because clearly they oversee childcare centers, and so their aggressive enforcement actions against us seem to suggest that they’re not sort of watching out for our concerns.”

After the preschool closed briefly at the beginning of the pandemic, it reopened in June of 2020. The school didn’t hide that it wasn’t enforcing the state’s mask rule.

In December, Wu says, an official came to Aspen Leaf centers twice and saw that children were not wearing masks. The official didn’t put forward any citations or include in a report that the kids were mask-less, he said; however, she sent him reminder emails, telling him that children need to be wearing masks. 

In January, one family issued a complaint to the authorities after discussing concerns with the school. The official informed Wu, who told her that regulators don’t have the ability to enforce the rule, and gave reason for why the school chose not to mask children. Days later, the investigators came to the locations and carried out the controversial interviews with young children.

More recently, on March 9, Wu, along with a few other people from the preschool, held a virtual meeting with licensing officials from the Community Care Licensing Division (CCLD) under the Department of Social Services (DSS).

Wu was told he needed to submit questions for the meeting in advance. Once the meeting was established, Wu informed parents, and around a dozen of them wanted to join. Wu sent in 15 pages of questions, along with a list of attendees.

A DSS official informed Wu that parents and media would not be included in the meeting, despite Wu’s insistence that this would violate their rights.

Once the meeting began, on March 9, Wu says, he was informed that the department would be answering none of the questions that he had sent ahead of time. He also said they didn’t answer any substantive questions, and was told not to record the meeting.

Wu contends that the preschool’s COVID-19 policies were public and the school was open about its decision not to require masks on children. He believes the department officials are not used to being challenged in their authority, and so his preschool has been treated unfairly because of the school’s pushback. Wu told The Daily Wire that parents are still upset. 

“The fact that they would sort of isolate children unnecessarily and make them talk to strangers suggests they’re not really that concerned with the children’s wellbeing. And the fact that they are just completely ignoring basic, legitimate concerns that parents have suggests that the agency also cares nothing for the parents,” he noted.

“And so now everyone’s just mad that this agency appears to work for nobody and believes they’re accountable to no one and sort of serves no public interest,” he said. 

Wu added that it would have been easy for officials at the department to say that, while they may have the legal authority to interview children, they made a mistake in this particular instance.

Some parents are also trying to go through their local state assembly member to help them get answers, as Wu was informed by licensing officials that a meeting was being coordinated – and would need to be coordinated – in that way.

“We need this agency. They do some really important work, but it’s just really troubling that an agency can sort of treat kids in a certain way that’s bad and then just not answer for it at all,” says Wu.

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