By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
SHREWSBURY — Shrewsbury Public School (SPS) students, staff and visitors will wear masks inside when school year starts next month.
Additionally, remote learning will not be an option for Shrewsbury families.
The recommendation, which came from district leaders, was unanimously approved by the Shrewsbury School Committee during their Aug. 18 meeting.
“To me, this is a decision about student safety and student health,” School Committee member Jason Palitsch. “This is not a political decision. I intend to listen to the experts. It is clear to me that the risk is higher than we would like.”
Moving forward, Vice Chair Sandra Fryc asked that the committee reassess this mask policy every time they meet.
The state added its own mask mandate for schools on Aug. 24, voting to require masks for
almost all students and staff through at least Oct. 1
One resident spoke in favor of universal masking during the meeting.
“The only way to protect our children and our school community is to institute universal masking, regardless of vaccination status,” said Nandana Kansra, who is also a practicing physician.
Mitigation efforts in place
Superintendent Joseph Sawyer and Director of Nursing Noelle Freeman laid out Shrewsbury’s various mitigation efforts.
According to Sawyer, the goal is to provide full-time, in-person learning for students with minimal disruptions.
Every public health, medical and educational organization has said that in-person learning is important, Sawyer said, adding that he and district leaders agree.
Additionally, Sawyer said the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has made it “abundantly clear” that remote learning will not count toward compulsory attendance in public schools this year.
If a student does need to miss school because they need to quarantine or have a short-term illness, Sawyer said the students will have options to keep up with or make up school, which happens in a typical year.
The district is requiring masks to be worn at all schools and at all age levels while inside buildings at the start school year.
Sawyer said the district is “committed” to monitoring data and reviewing guidance to determine if and when the masking can be relaxed.
Windows will be opened where possible. HVAC will run several hours before school starts, and during and after school to circulate air. Surveillance testing and hand sanitizing will continue. Tables will be cleaned between lunches.
Students to see partial ‘return to normalcy’
Shrewsbury will maintain three feet of social distancing where possible, but Sawyer said as part of returning to normal classroom instruction, there are times when that may not be possible, like small group work and a typical lunch experience.
Volunteers in the classrooms will likely restart in the fall while events will return to Shrewsbury with indoor masking. Sawyer noted, however, that large events may be modified.
Classes like band, chorus and orchestra will be held with modifications, such as wearing masks and putting bells on brass instruments.
Shrewsbury students did well during the pandemic with the help of their families and district staff, Sawyer said. However, he added that there has “clearly” been an impact on students, noting that it may have been on their social-emotional well-being versus their academic success.
“We’re going to make sure that, first and foremost, we’re making sure kids feel comfortable, kids feel safe, kids feel accepted and they feel a very strong sense of belonging and, again, more of a return to normalcy around their socialization…,” Sawyer said.