Northampton School Board considers mask policy for new school year

NORTHAMPTON – After a meticulous three-hour discussion, the Northampton Schools Committee has formally approved an interim mask policy to begin the school year, with the caveat that the committee will revisit the policy at its September 8 meeting to discuss of any change.

On August 15, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released COVID-19 guidelines for K-12 schools in the state. According to the guidelines, Massachusetts public health and education officials are not recommending mask mandates, large-scale testing, contact tracing or testing to stay in schools this fall.

The school board has decided to only require masks in schools when Hampshire County’s level of COVID-19 transmission and hospitalization is at a “high” level. When transmission and hospitalization rates drop to a “medium” level, however, communication will be sent to the school community to encourage masks. Universal masking will also be implemented if the superintendent determines that school data indicates increased transmission and that student and staff absenteeism will negatively impact student learning.

A universal mask mandate will be overturned when Hampshire County’s transmission and hospitalization levels fall to ‘low’ for two weeks.

A universal mask mandate could also be rescinded when the school board, after reviewing recommendations from its ad hoc COVID-19 committee, data from the superintendent, or other information from the superintendent’s health advisory committee, determines that the Student and staff absenteeism caused by increased COVID-19 transmission will no longer impact student learning.

“I’m comfortable with [the masking language]“Ward 6 committee member Margaret Miller said. “I think the number of mitigations we have listed is quite good because I think our vaccination rates in Northampton have been high; and that’s the most important thing for me.

The committee voted 7 to 3 in favor of this policy, with Ward 1 member Meg Robbins, Ward 4 member Michael Stein, and Ward 3 member Emily Serafy-Cox being the three who were not from agreement with the updated policy.

“I’m afraid it doesn’t really give us the clarity that we need,” Stein said. “I don’t feel like we’re getting anywhere near that automatic switch that the committee wanted.”

When universal masking is in place, members of the school community are required to mask in school buildings, school transportation, and other indoor school-related events, such as field trips. Universal masking does not apply during approved mask breaks, while eating and drinking, during outdoor sports, outdoor learning, outdoor recreation, or sleeping.

There are currently no mask mandates in place at schools across the city after it was lifted at the end of the last school year. Masking will still be required in health offices based on state Department of Public Health guidelines, but optional in all other parts of the school building, according to Lisa Safron, director of health services for the school district. for the moment. Children and staff who test positive for COVID-19 must self-isolate for at least five days and wear a high-quality mask for 10 days, unless they test negative after day five. They can also resume programming after day five if they are asymptomatic or “symptoms resolve and they have not had a fever without the use of anti-fever medication for 24 hours.”

According to the district’s mask policy, students in the class must wear a mask for five days after the exposure, although this mandate is under review by the ad hoc COVID-19 committee and will be updated when further information is available. next meeting.

Additionally, Safron said symptomatic testing will remain in place for people who show symptoms of COVID-19 during the school day. Data monitoring will also continue at the start of the school year in collaboration with school nurses.

At the time of the meeting, 90% of students in grades 6 through 12 had acquired one or more doses of the vaccine, while 80% of students in kindergarten through 5 had received one or more doses. According to the updated mask policy, being fully vaccinated also means being reinforced.

The updated mask policy also includes a line stating that the district will “continue to mitigate COVID[-19] risks to children and families through a multi-tiered approach that includes vaccination, improved ventilation, air filtration, sewage testing, symptom testing, and responsible symptom monitoring.