This Thursday and Friday may be the last two days most Algonquin students and staff will have to wear masks in their school. (Though all who wish to may continue to.)
Tonight, the Regional School Committee approved a revised policy and recommendation from the Superintendent allowing students and staff to go (mostly)* maskless at Algonquin. It will be implemented upon their return from next week’s February break – on Monday, February 28th. That’s the date the state’s mandate lapses.
The proposed policy presented and approved was the one that I described in a post last night.** It includes a process for lifting the mask requirements if the average daily attendance rate is higher than 92% for three straight weeks.
According to Wellness Director Mary Ellen Duggan, ARHS attendance hasn’t been under 92% since January 12th. A recommendation for the Committee to lift the mandate is the last step in the process. That was taken care of tonight during the discussion and vote on approving the revised policy.
The mask mandate may be reinstated if there is a drop to attendance rates below 92% for one week “or if other unforeseen circumstances warrant”. (Administration officials are authorized to take action prior to a Committee vote, then bring the recommendation to the next Committee meeting.)
Before requiring masks again, the administration, Medical Advisory Team, and public health officials would look at the data to determine whether or not it is a result of a Covid spike.
In answering questions about the trigger tonight, Duggan said that if attendance drops close to that threshold, it’s a good red flag to start digging into the data. When attendance dropped below 92% earlier this winter, it was followed by spiking numbers. She explained that when numbers drop below 90%, every classroom is significantly effected. It causes an issue for the whole school struggling to teach classes with kids missing classroom time and trying to catch up on their return.
Tonight’s agenda had listed that the committee would discuss an off ramp for masking and hold a “First Reading” of the policy. The Committee and administration apparently decided that they didn’t need to adhere to their posted policy for changing policies. (Chair Paul Desmond referenced that he assumed the administration would look to bypass a Second Reading. But I didn’t hear any explanation for that provided.)
The revised mask policy will be presented to the Northborough and Southborough School Committees tomorrow evening. However, that may not come with the same recommended timeline. (In a meeting yesterday afternoon, the administration indicated they might propose a tiered timing approach.)
You can read more details on the policies and recent discussions leading to the decision in yesterday’s post.
*Even when the requirement is “lifted” there are some instances where students will need to wear masks. Based on federal and/or state requirements, Duggan said they will still be worn on buses and in the nurses’ offices. If students/staff isolate due to a positive Covid test then returns after Day 5, they will be required to wear masks on days 6-10. If someone is symptomatic but tests negative, masks are still requested.
Those requirements are apparently covered by a reference in the final paragraph:
During the absence of the face mask requirement, the District will adhere to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) guidelines regarding face coverings.
**There was one phrase I missed in the pdfs when I shared them yesterday. In watching tonight’s presentation, I realized I forgot to insert a phrase including “all District employees” among those that must wear masks in schools (unless the requirement is lifted). I replaced the linked pdfs with updated versions (You can see a draft here and redlined version here.)
I really hope they will not try to do the same for younger children *yet*. As of now, children under 5 do not even have the option of being vaccinated. Eliminating masks might result in a different type of absenteeism: parents of unvaccinated children not feeling comfortable sending their children to schools with little mitigation measures left.
Why in the world did they not wait just one more week after the return from school vacation? This makes no sense to me whatsoever. With so many families increasing their traveling by vacationing, seeing family and friends over February vacation week all over the country and sometimes out of the country, wouldn’t the common sense approach dictate that after being back for a week the possibility of having contracted COVID would be known by then and quarantine measures engaged so as not to spread it all through the school. By lifting the mandate to only gain 5 days of non-mask wearing, the possibility of having a super spreading event is too great a risk to our students, their families, the staff and the community. I believe this was short-sighted and, as anxious as everyone is to get rid of the masks, one more week would have been the more rational decision.
Last night, two Committee members asked that question. Speaking specifically about Algonquin, Mary Ellen Duggan said that aside from the recent spike over Christmas break, they hadn’t seen big spikes this year and last following breaks. There was a spike following Northborough’s Applefest in September. Then she said the December cases at Algonquin were highest the week of break. There were 96 cases reported the week of December 29th. After that numbers started coming down.
You can see my chart tracking this year’s figures here and last year’s graph here.
There were spikes in the lower schools after Christmas break. So they may make a different recommendation tonight for K-8 based on data for those grade levels.
Why do you care about cases? Everyone either has or will soon be exposed to the virus,
90% of the high schoolers are vaccinated and 25% have tested positive (likely a least twice as many have already had it). The kids are not at risk.
Everyone who wants to be vaccinated is, those that aren’t are willing to take the risk.
Anyone who wants to can keep wearing a mask.
Outside of school, the students aren’t wearing masks so why the obsession with wearing masks in school?
In addition to getting rid of masks, Algonquin should also stop all testing.
If a student is sick they should stay home. Once they feel well they should go back to school, just like any other illness.
Great news for the kids. Any updates? How has this worked out?
There wasn’t a surge. I’ve heard that a lot of students are still wearing masks. I just posted the latest figures.
Thank you Beth.