Westborough elementary schools to implement flexible masking on Feb. 28

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Westborough elementary schools to implement flexible masking on Feb. 28
Kindergarten teacher Iris Torres leads a lesson while masked back in mid-December. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

WESTBOROUGH – Westborough elementary schools will soon join Gibbons Middle School and Westborough High School in flexible masking on Feb. 28.

Gibbons and the high school returned to flexible masking earlier this month after mandatory re-masking during the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. As of a Feb. 16 School Committee meeting, before this week’s February vacation, the schools were in week two of the transition.

“I’m heading into vacation week thinking that we’re in a very good place,” Superintendent Amber Bock said. “I’m going to celebrate.”

“I feel very good,” she continued. “I feel very confident about where we are. I am thrilled to be moving to more flexible masking. I can hardly wait to see little kids’ smiling faces. The faculty of the elementary schools — many of them have been waiting to unmask.”

The School Committee also voted to update its face covering policy.

Chair Kristen Vincent said the new policy says that people who are vaccinated aren’t required to wear a mask. Face coverings that cover the nose and mouth are still “strongly recommended” for unvaccinated people though.

Masks will also be required in health offices in the schools and buses, under a federal order.

Westborough was part of a handful of districts in the state that implemented flexible masking earlier this school year when it did so at Gibbons and the high school. The schools later returned to masking, though.

Between Feb. 14 and 18, the district reported a total of 10 student and three staff COVID-19 cases — a decrease from a total of 16 staff and student cases seen the week before.

Student representative expresses concern about unmasking

Speaking on Feb. 16, student representative Andrew Chen shared that, with flexible masking being reintroduced, some students shared that they felt uncomfortable unmasking.

“There was some peer pressure in the hallways … from other students about masking because a majority of students at the high school remain masked,” Chen said. “So, some students don’t feel as comfortable with unmasking.”

Bock responded to Chen, saying there’s relationship work that needs to be done with students and faculty.

Superintendent notes medically-exempt classrooms

The only places where masks will still be required are in marked medically exempt classrooms, Bock said.

There are 12 faculty members at the middle and high school and between three to five at the elementary level with medical concerns where additional masking may be requested, according to Bock’s presentation.

At the elementary level, none of these situations would require a classroom to mask all day because the staff member may teach a special or go in and out of the room or do pull-out or small group work, Bock said.

Bock and the principals are working together to have “thoughtful” conversations.

“But it is important and necessary for all faculty to move forward and accept the flexibility that students have for their rights to not mask and for us to create a culture of comfort for both of those to live together,” Bock said.

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