SHREWSBURY – The Shrewsbury School Committee will decide in March whether to move forward with a transition to flexible masking in schools.
That, however, also depends on whether the Board of Health opts to lift its mask mandate for schools when it meets on March 4.
School Committee member Jason Palitsch spoke at a meeting on Wednesday, saying that current COVID-19 requirements are “stressful,” “depressing” and “getting in the way of the lives that we all want to lead.”
“I think we are approaching that time where we can not only give folks the option to unmask if they wish while still supporting those who wish to do so, but move toward a life that isn’t fully focused on the pandemic,” he said. “I think I would like to see us give families that ray of light, that hope.”
School Committee member Sandra Fryc suggested that the committee should vote on March 2, pending the Board of Health’s vote. If they vote to rescind at that point, masks could be removed March 7.
“That gives us some time to make sure that our feet are where they should be,” Fryc said. “We’re getting all the data that we need, and that we’re also giving a timeline to everyone involved in this because they deserve that as well.”
Board of Health vote
The Board of Health voted to rescind the indoor mask mandate for most public places during a meeting on Tuesday.
The board did not vote to remove the mask mandate for schools.
Board member George Abraham discussed this decision, citing trends in data that show a surge in cases “following every vacation week.”
He anticipated that there may be such a surge following this year’s upcoming February vacation, which runs from Feb. 22 to 25.
He asked that the board make its decision regarding schools on March 4.
Superintendent Joseph Sawyer echoed elements of Abraham’s argument on Feb. 16, presenting data of the number COVID-19 the week before, the week after and two weeks after past school vacations during the pandemic.
For example, there were 45 COVID-19 cases in the week before this year’s holiday vacation. There were 445 cases and 361 cases respectively in the two weeks after the break during the coronavirus’ Omicron variant surge.
Sawyer said that there were 12 COVID-19 cases among students and staff members in the week before this latest meeting on Feb. 15. That represented a drop from 54 cases among students and staff the week prior.
Committee members reacted to this data, expressing interest in developing metrics to track to determine if masks would be required again in the future.
School Committee discusses public feedback
Chair Jon Wensky said this week that the School Committee received between 25 and 30 emails with “mixed responses.”
Palitsch weighed in on this feedback.
“I have to say, regarding this discussion, there’s this element to this public advocacy almost like it’s a game — send a certain number of emails and you’ll get the result you want. Use a few more exclamation points. Make the tone a little more hostile,” he said.
He continued, “When I make a decision about the safety of our students and staff, I do not care how many likes or comments a Facebook post got. I am not interested in how many signatures are on the online petition or how many exclamation points are in the email. We have a responsibility to be calm, measured [and] reasonable about doing what’s in the best interest of our kids and staff.”
Discussion continues in area communities
This discussion takes place as other communities across the region consider their own masking policies.
Westborough, Southborough, Northborough and Marlborough all opted to lift their town-wide mask mandates via Board of Health votes last week.
Masks remain mandatory in schools under a state mandate through Feb. 28.
From that point onward, though, individual districts will get to decide whether to keep their mandates in place.
School Committee meetings have continued this week as individual districts make those determinations or defer their votes to a later days.