When Saugus Public School students return after February vacation, mask-wearing will no longer be mandatory.
The school committee voted 4-0 to follow the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education guidelines to make face masks optional in schools from February 28.
Earlier this week, Governor Charlie Baker and DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley announced that the state’s mandate for students and teachers to wear masks in schools would expire on February 28. That left it up to individual school districts to decide whether or not to impose their own mask mandates. .
The school committee addressed the issue of the mask as the first order of business during Thursday’s meeting.
School committee chairman Tom Whittredge supported giving students the choice of whether or not to wear a mask in Saugus schools.
No one will be required to wear a mask in schools, Whittredge said, adding that students or teachers will still be asked to don a mask if they prefer.
“Let’s do a whirlwind and get back to some normalcy for these kids,” Whittredge said.
Whittredge thanked students who have been required to wear masks at school for the past two years. He acknowledged that it was not an easy task to wear a mask for so long.
“I don’t see a scenario where I would find myself backing a mask mandate again,” Whittredge said.
Per the federal mandate, masks will still be required on school buses, Whittredge said.
“A good thing” for students
School committee member Ryan Fisher said it’s remarkable to think about how far we’ve come over the past two years.
At the start of the pandemic, there were no vaccines and strains of COVID-19 hospitalized more people, Fisher said. He added that testing was virtually unavailable and students had to stay out of school for 10 days if exposed to the virus.
Fisher said the masks can cause difficulty for young students as they learn to verbalize words. In some cases, like his daughter, masks can impact behavior by keeping children quiet, he noted.
Eliminating the mask mandate is a good thing, Fisher said, noting he was glad the school board could do it for students.
At a time when many parents are euphoric about masks becoming optional, Fisher called on the school community to show understanding for people who choose to continue wearing masks after Feb. 28.
Some students may have young, elderly or immunocompromised family members as well as their own health issues, Fisher said. Or maybe they can’t be vaccinated for some reason, he noted.
“In our joy of being past this, we have to remember that the kids are watching us,” Fisher said. “If we speak ill of masks or make fun of people who wear masks, they realize it.”
School committee member Vinny Serino has proposed making masks optional in Saugus schools.
If a student wants to wear a mask, come on Feb. 28, great, Serino said. Otherwise, that’s fine too, he says.
“We are a community, whatever you do, we’re going to do it together,” Serino said.
Going forward, the school district will remain diligent with testing and follow COVID-19 protocols to ensure everyone is safe, Serino said.
“We don’t say [the virus] gone and it’s over,” Whittredge added. “We say we are taking a different approach.
School committee member Dennis Gould recalled how his Saugus School District granddaughter mentioned that some of her classmates never saw each other’s faces due to the mask mandate.
Gould asked parents and students to respect each other’s individual positions on mask wearing and to support those who wear masks at school.