Haverhill School Committee Agrees: No Public School Student Masking After Feb. 28

Executive Assistant Beverly Cassano, School Committee member Gail M. Sullivan, Superintendent Margaret Marotta and Assistant Superintendent Michael Pfifferling at a Haverhill School Committee meeting. (WHAV News file photograph.)

The end of February brings the end of mandated masking for Haverhill students.

The School Committee last night joined Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School in not countering orders by Gov. Charlie Baker to lift statewide mask requirements as of Feb. 28. Following Baker’s announcement, cities and towns had the option to impose their own mandates. School Committee members heard plenty of public comment on the topic, mostly from parents in favor of eliminating masks. Among them, Lynette Hickey of Haverhill.

“It has been two full years since our children had anything resembling a normal school experience. They’ve been listening to teachers giving lessons with mask-muffled voices. Many of us have been saying, and experts can pretty much all now agree, that our children have been harmed psychologically, emotionally, mentally by being forced to strap a piece of fabric over their face five days a week,” she said.

Members voted 6-1 in favor of the motion by School Committee member Toni Sapienza Donais. Only Mayor James J. Fiorentini, chairman, voted against.

There were some in attendance, like Barry Davis, who questioned whether the lifting of the mandate shouldn’t wait until a week or two later, rather than immediately after the students return from school break.

“The day we return from vacation, historically throughout this pandemic, our highest numbers come after. Can we afford another spike like that in Haverhill?” He asked.

Asked why the governor chose the end of February to end the mask mandate, Haverhill School Physician Dr. John L. Maddox answered it appears to have been based on the percentage of people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine

“Massachusetts has focused its justification on ending the mask mandate on its high vaccination rate of children five to 11. Massachusetts has a 51% vaccination rate of children age five to 11. Haverhill is 32%.,” he said.

Maddox said Haverhill would need to vaccinate about 900 more students in that age group to reach the state level. He acknowledged the positivity rate could increase once masks are removed. Nonetheless, he said, he doesn’t think lifting the mandate was necessarily a bad idea, but expressed concern over timing.

“When I say it’s not a terrible idea to get rid of the masks, I’m acknowledging that I think there is a benefit to the children. The mental health concern is a potential benefit. The trade-off is a possible increase in COVID cases,” he said.

School Superintendent Margaret Marotta also pointed out, even with the mandate lifted, there will still be some instances where masking is still required by the federal government. These include when riding school buses or visiting the nurse’s office. Also, if a student is out of school with COVID-19, he or she would be required to wear a mask for five days after returning to class.

School Committee member Gail M. Sullivan also pointed out one of the keys to a successful transition to non-masking is requiring parents to monitor their children for any symptoms of the disease and to use test kits being provided by the school.

Member Scott W. Wood Jr., who also serves on the Whittier Tech School Committee, said that body voted Wednesday to make mask wearing voluntary.

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