Haverhill School Committee Adopts Mandatory Mask Policy in 5-1 Vote; Subject to Review Next Month

File photograph. (Image licensed by Ingram Image.)

Correction: Because of a reporting error, the vote was 5-1 in favor with one member absent.

With the return to school only weeks away, the question of mandatory masking was on the minds of parents and educators at last night’s School Committee meeting.

Committee members heard from parents with strong feelings on both sides of the issue as well as educators and medical professionals, before ultimately reaching the decision to require masks for all teachers, students and staff while in school buildings.

Andrea Watson was one of the first to address the committee, making an impassioned plea to require masking until the COVID-19 threat is gone

“The health, welfare and safety of the children in the public schools, as well as the private, are a priority as well as the education. I understand we have rights and I don’t think it’s taking anyone’s rights away to keep children safe and healthy,” she said.

Meanwhile, Laura Campbell, who said she was representing several other parents, had a differing point of view.

“Masks are a medical treatment with real risks so it is critical that each individual family is able to decide whether or not to mask their child based on the parent’s assessment of risks versus benefit for their own individual child,” she said.

Campbell said she started a petition demanding students be allowed to attend school unmasked and had about 70 signatures so far.

School Superintendent Margaret Marotta told the committee the crux of the problem is that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has eliminated the remote learning option this year and mandated all students must attend school in person, five days per week, while offering little guidance regarding the use of masks.

Haverhill’s School Pediatrician Dr. John L. Maddox told the Committee both sides had valid arguments and the only real solution was to get people vaccinated.

“Arguments are very passionate and people vary very strongly and it isn’t that somebody’s wrong and somebody’s right, it’s we have a decision to make and it’s very complicated. I’m very eager to get rid of masks. The primary tool to successful in-person learning is vaccinations,” Maddox said.

After considerable discussion, members agreed to a plan that would err on the side of caution for the first few weeks of school and re-evaluate by mid-September. Thus, when classes begin, all students K-12 as well as all teachers and staff will have to wear masks while in the school building, except when eating. That mandate will not apply to students with prohibitive medical conditions or behavioral needs. It will also make an exception for teachers when they are alone in a classroom. The Committee voted 5-1 on those mandates with committee member Maura L. Ryan-Ciardiello opposed and Paul A. Magliocchetti absent.

Those present also voted unanimously that no masks be required for students playing outdoor sports or for people attending those events. They also voted to continue COVID-19 pool testing and to follow a state education department program called Test and Stay, where an exposed student can remain in class as long as she or he tests negatively for five consecutive days. They also voted to allow visitors into the school buildings as long as they remain fully masked.

Comments are closed.