By Max Bowenfirstname.lastname@example.org
Citing the changing recommendations on mask-wearing in classrooms, the School Committee will wait until August to decide on a policy.
Committee Chair Ethan Hamilton, speaking at the July 19 meeting, said that the information was no clearer now than when school ended in June. Committee member James McKenna was concerned that the schools would be handcuffed if a policy was decided now and then new information became available.
“It is an evolving situation— week to week, day to day,” said McKenna. “A policy is something pretty stable, pretty concrete. If things erupt, we need to be able to pivot and move.”
Incoming Superintendent John Antonucci said that any guidance on masks is hypothetical at this time.
“I don’t know what to expect from the Department of Education either” he said. “I don’t think anyone does.”
Guidance on masks varies
The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for masks to be worn by all students in the fall. In a statement issued on July 19, the AAP called for a return to in-person learning. It also recommended a layered approach to keep people safe from COVID-19. This included face masks for everyone over the age of 2, regardless of their vaccination status.
“AAP recommends universal masking because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated,” the statement read. “Many schools will not have a system to monitor vaccine status of students, teachers and staff, and some communities overall have low vaccination uptake where the virus may be circulating more prominently.”
On May 27, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that masks would not be required for those that have been vaccinated. For the fall, all districts and schools will be required to be in-person, full-time, five days a week, and all DESE health and safety requirements will be lifted. This includes all physical distancing requirements.
“We will collaborate with the Department of Public Health (DPH) to issue any additional health and safety recommendations over the summer (e.g., masks for elementary school students),” a statement issued on May 27 read. “We will provide any updates to districts and schools as we receive them.”
The Centers for Disease Control, in a July 9 announcement, recommended that masks be worn in school by faculty and students who are not full vaccinated.
“Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained,” the statement read.
Parents ask that masks not be required
At the July 19 meeting, residents spoke against the adoption of a policy that would require masks. Gregory St. Lawrence said that the regulations “have changed on a dime” and that the School Committee should be a stopgap against this. He said that the discussion on masks has often become political and this has influenced any decisions.
St. Lawrence said that committee was elected to represent the town and protect the children.
“I trust you guys to handle this decision on a local level,” he said. “You’re the ones who know our town and our situation.”
Meredith Conrad of Calvin Road said her son, a rising junior, has told her that communication with teachers was difficult with the masks. She said conditions have now changed and it’s known that the risk of contracting COVID is low to those under the age of 18.
“Students and teachers should have the option to wear one if they so choose, but it should not be mandatory,” said Conrad.
Karen Malcolmson of Fieldstone Lane expressed concern that those in power could reverse the lifting of the mask mandate. She said there have been several studies showing both physical and emotional effects from prolonged mask-wearing. She presented the committee with a petition signed by more than 350 residents calling for a policy that would ban required masks in schools.
“I hope that you’re listening to the people and not looking to other towns and unions. We want your focus on our town and our children,” she said. “Don’t look to other towns and cave to the peer pressure.”