Westfield Newsroom

Southwick schools will comply with mask mandate

Superintendent Jennifer Willard speaks to the School Committee about the updated strategic plan for STGRSD schools Aug. 25. (PETER CURRIER/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

SOUTHWICK – Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional School District Superintendent Jennifer Willard said in a letter to parents that the school district would comply with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) new statewide mask mandate for schools.

She also said in her letter that previous strategies for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 would continue. Per the mandate, all staff and all students above age five will be required to wear a mask indoors in schools. Masks will not be required outdoors on school grounds.

“The mask requirement applies when students and staff are indoors at school, except when eating, drinking, or during mask breaks. Masks are not necessary outdoors and may be removed while eating indoors,” said Willard in the letter.

A provision of the mandate allows for individual schools to drop the mandate for vaccinated people only if the vaccination rate for the school is 80 percent or more after Oct. 1. Willard said to the Select Board Aug. 24 that the vaccination rate for grades 7-12 is 40 percent at most. The vaccination rate for grades six and below will be little to nothing, as children under 12 are still not eligible to be vaccinated.

It is not clear if children that young will be made eligible for the vaccine before Oct. 1.

According to Willard’s letter, masks will be required on school buses, students, staff, and parents will be asked to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before the school day and remain home if they are sick, and student cohorting will take place when it is feasible. Though social distancing requirements are not being implemented by the state, Willard said that three-foot distancing will be implemented whenever possible, given space limitations.

The School Committee had voted 5-1 last week to strongly recommend, but not require, masks for unvaccinated people in the school, per the DESE guidelines at the time. When the vote was made, Willard alluded that DESE would be updating their guidance, and would possibly render the vote moot. That ended up happening Aug. 24 when DESE granted Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley the authority to mandate masks in all schools regardless of vaccination status.

During the School Committee meetings in which the possible local mask mandate was discussed, opponents and proponents of the mandate, as well as the School Committee members themselves, agreed that the decision should have been made by the state and medical experts rather than school committees.

The STGRSD school year begins Sept. 1.

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