School committee reviews changes to mask guidelines | News
TEWKSBURY — At the Tewksbury School Committee meeting on February 9, 2022, committee members and district administrators discussed recent changes to state masking guidelines and the impacts on schools.
Superintendent Chris Malone explained that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is lifting mask requirements in schools on February 28. He noted that students and staff will still be required to wear masks on school buses and transportation, as well as in offices and nursing suites. .
Although the state no longer accepts an 80 percent immunization rate threshold, the district continues to monitor immunization rates for school-aged children in the city.
Students and staff can opt into a program to receive two free home tests every two weeks, provided by DESE. Malone said more than 920 students and 320 district staff participate in the program. The district will continue pool testing, but will no longer run contact tracing or test-to-stay programs. Malone thanked school nurses for their work and directed families to the COVID-19 dashboard on the district’s website for answers to frequently asked questions.
“Last month, we were hundreds [of cases]”Malone said. “This week we’re down to nine.”
Malone said the decision on masking is up to the committee.
He said that because the district has been so successful in utilizing DESE resources, “my feeling is to support the direction that DESE is going.”
Member Shannon Demos raised concerns about the date falling so close to the end of February vacation with students and staff traveling during the break. She said the district should support students and staff who want to wear masks and should continue to provide free masks to people in the building. She added that administrators should be very aware of the impact of changes on students and should work to meet the socio-emotional needs of the school community during the transition.
Member Bridget Garabedian shared that she was proud of the district’s mitigation measures.
“That’s just the next step,” she said, adding that the implementation date will give people more time to sign up for testing programs.
“It was late,” Chairman Keith Sullivan said.
According to the Feb. 9 memo released by Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, “DESE continues to recommend that districts and schools take a layered approach to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in school settings. DESE and DPH continue to strongly urge all eligible individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and booster and continue to support schools with vaccination clinics.Other mitigations include participation in the COVID-19 testing program at the statewide, maintaining good hand hygiene practices and staying home when ill.
The DESE and the Public Health Department strongly recommend that unvaccinated people continue to wear a mask in school for their safety and that of others.