Trottier mask mandate to be lifted on Feb 28; Finn, Woodward, and Neary on March 14

Tonight, Southborough and Northborough School Committees approved soon lifting the Mask Mandates on a tiered approach. 

  • Middle Schoolers will be able to ditch their masks on their return from next week’s break – Monday, February 28th.
  • For grades PreK-5 the change will be on Monday, March 14th.

The decision was made possible by first passing a revised mask policy. It states that attendance drops too low in the future (based on Covid cases), the mandate may be reinstated. (For more policy details, scroll down.)

Some members questioned the rationale for the delay for younger students, given the drawbacks for masks on younger children’s ability to learn and mental health concerns.

The delay was explained as needed for “social and emotional” teaching to prepare kids to respect their classmates’ choices.

District Physician Safdar Medina also anticipated that the Federal mandate to wear masks on school buses may be dropped by then. That would reduce the transitions for children.

The delay will also allow the administration to monitor the data and see what happens when the mandate is lifted in the higher schools. Finally, the Medical Advisory Team anticipates that Covid spread will be lower in the community by then. (In Wednesday’s policy meeting there was discussion of the fact that preschoolers under 5 can’t be vaccinated, and the younger students are more likely to have siblings under 5.)

When masks are dropped the classrooms will return to a normal setup. Cafeterias will take an additional few weeks to return to normal seating. (That’s to avoid having to quickly undo changes if cases do spike.)

Upon questioning, Superintendent Gregory Martineau said that teachers won’t be expected to monitor which students should be wearing masks based on parents’ wishes. Instead parents are expected to have those conversations with kids and teachers will provide “environments” where kids can “make choices”.

Martineau admitted some details still need to be resolved. They will look at accommodate extra spacing for students whose families are concerned about the changes. But that will have to be worked out through conversations between Operations and building Principals. 

In discussions, the Superintendent also spoke about why there is a need to return to normal. He acknowledged that some students who struggle have struggled even more with all of the pandemic restrictions. They have also seen a significant increase in K-8 students who needed mental health support. The weekly Dashboard will continue and at a member’s suggestion, will note school attendance rates.

Prior to the meeting, there was 30 minutes of public comment, with most parents speaking in favor of eliminating the requirement.

More about the Policy Details

The policies are essentially the same to the version that was discussed at the Policy meeting on Wednesday and approved for Algonquin last night. 

  • The policy is based on attendance rates. If they drop back down below 92%, and the data shows a link to Covid cases, the requirement may be reinstated. (Although the Covid link isn’t spelled out in the policy, it is in the linked procedure for how the administration and Medical Advisory Team will evaluate the data.)
  • The attendance metric will be averaged across all PreK-8 schools for a single town.
  • Students will still have to wear masks on school buses (per federal mandates), in health offices, and upon return from isolating (per Dept of Secondary Education guidelines)

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