(This is Part 1 of a three-part series covering Kamdin Hernandez’s saga with the Simi Valley Unified School District. Read the rest here. EXCLUSIVE: School District Banned ‘Disruptive’ Dad From Campus After He Dared to Advocate for His Son Over Mask Mandate and EXCLUSIVE: Teachers Pulled Mask Over 4th Grader’s Nose, Called Him Rude and Disrespectful Over Mask Refusal – Then Charged Dad With Trespassing for Picking Him Up)
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. His parents complained to the school district, to no avail. 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!), who just wants to go back to being a kid, and trying to keep up with it.
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.
So, how did we get here?
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 said Kamdin had difficulty wearing the mask then:
“They were not in a full day of in-person instruction when he first started having to wear a mask at school. It was still hard on him as he had come home multiple times upset about it. 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.”
Which brings us to Friday, January 7, 2022. Hernandez says on that day:
[Kamdin’s] teacher gave him one minute to comply or she will 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. After keeping him outside we were called to come get him.
The next week, on Monday, January 10, Kamdin went to school without a mask, and at 9:08 AM and 9:31 AM sent his mother emails begging her to pick him up.
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 segregated to a separate room [that day] by himself while Mrs. Perryman, [Assistant Superintendent] Hani Youssef and [Director of Elementary Education] Julie Ellis sat at a bench outside. 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.
The next day, January 11, Kamdin was too upset to attend school and stayed 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. In the letter the family received, Perryman also alleges that Kamdin physically pushed past his teacher to gain access to 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.
According to documents reviewed by RedState, district officials asked on numerous occasions if Kamdin had a medical exemption for wearing a mask, and the family always replied that Kamdin should be exempt because his ADHD caused him to be unable to think and do his work while wearing a mask. 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.
In fact, Ellis admitted as much in an email to Hernandez on February 2, 2022 (emphasis added):
I wanted to follow up with you regarding a statement you made during our conversation at Garden Grove Elementary. As we discussed Kamdin and the current circumstances at the school site, you mentioned that Kamdin had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as well as dealing with anxiety. At that time, I enquired if you had discussed these conditions with the school site and/or provided any additional documentation regarding these concerns. As our discussion was primarily regarding the requirement for Kamdin to wear a mask indoors, you stated that doctors would not be willing to write a note providing Kamdin with a mask exemption.
Because you have alerted the district that your son has ADHD, the District is required to determine if Kamdin meets the definition of a disability as defined under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. I am attaching an assessment plan for your review. 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. At the end of the assessment, a Section 504 meeting will be held to review the assessment results, determine eligibility, and if eligible, the team would develop an intervention plan to ensure Kamdin is successful in school.
In that email Ellis notes that she asked Hernandez if he had discussed those concerns with the school site and/or provided additional 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. The first conversation is with a teacher at Garden Grove Elementary:
And the next conversation, just a few minutes later, is 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 she thought that was too much, SVUSD also provides for a Student Success Team meeting for 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.
The next day, January 12, Kamdin arrived without his mask and was denied access to the school by the school resource officer. 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] replied that he was just there for his education and he asked Mrs. Perryman if he could get his weekly studies and [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 went to the school that day, outside the fencing, and posted a video to his Instagram account documenting what was happening.
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:
They had called multiple family members stating they could not get a hold of me or my wife to come pick him up even though I was clearly there at the school. This was after what you see in the video of them saying they will call CPS for my son not wanting to leave school. This is extremely disturbing that the district would use CPS as a means to gain compliance from a 4th grader. 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 about the interaction with the ball.
The next school day, Tuesday, January 18, 2022, Kamdin’s entire class met outside so Kamdin could participate. Hernandez was hopeful that progress was being made. The next day, though, when he went to observe what was happening, Hernandez says that several mothers were there unhappy that their children had to have class outside, and the 18th was the only day in January that Kamdin had in-person instruction.
On the evening of January 18 Kamdin and his father, along with several community members, addressed the SVUSD Board of Trustees during their monthly meeting to share their concerns with what was happening. Kamdin brought up the incident with Assistant Superintendent Youssef and the ball, but in the official video that audio (around the 38:55 mark) is missing.
View this post on Instagram
“How is it okay for Hani [Mr. Youssef] to hold a ball over my head and bully me into trying to answer a question? How is it okay for Mrs. Perryman to block me off from entering my classroom?”
The family received yet another letter that day telling them that Kamdin was not allowed to attend school, citing California Education Code Section 48213 and stating that principals are allowed to exclude students deemed a health and safety risk.
As shown above, on Page 2 of the January 18 letter Youssef 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.
Earlier that day, Kamdin was again sent home from school for not wearing a mask. 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.
And then, on January 28 Perryman sent a truant letter 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. This clearly contradicts the earlier letter from the district stating that Kamdin has been excluded from school since January 7, 2022.
RedState contacted Dr. Hani Youssef at SVUSD with a lengthy list of questions regarding these incidents. Due to student confidentiality laws and ongoing investigations, he was unable to comment on specifics but provided the following statement:
The Simi Valley Unified School District is charged with protecting the rights of every child coming to us, and by extension, 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.
The way we can best protect and serve the interests of every child coming to us is to carefully comply with the laws and professional standards we are charged with following. We are not public health experts, medical practitioners or politicians. We are professional educators and our devotion and expertise is in education.
This is why we have been and will continue to follow the state and local public health mandates, which govern every school and district in California. We did not create these mandates. We do not have the authority to pick and choose which we follow, a position that our courts have made clear. These mandates are not optional and we cannot ignore, deviate or override them.
Our five elected school board members are accountable for the health and safety of 16,000 students and 2,200 employees. They are legally, and they could be personally liable for not following state and local guidelines. They, too, take seriously the responsibility they have to every child and family coming to us. They are not making these rules, but they will rightly ensure that they are followed, as local, state and federal law demand.
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.
Those who are frustrated by the mandates need to take their frustration to those who are making the decisions we follow. It is the state and county health officials who have the authority to change or remove these mandates, which were created under various emergency orders. As a local school district, we, the Simi Valley Unified School District, do not have that authority. We always want to hear and understand concerns and comments from our families. Our families are important educational partners and we must work together to support all students with becoming the best potential version of themselves.
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. But does anyone really think Newsom would shut down all school districts who made masks optional? 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 am also a graduate of SVUSD schools and the mother of a recent graduate who had either an IEP or a Section 504 Plan for his entire 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. It is my hope that Kamdin can be in a classroom with a teacher and principal who are truly looking out for his best interests sometime very soon.)