School Notes: updates from the 8/25 school committee meeting

We’re at tonight’s School Committee meeting, where the board is expected to discuss back-to-school plans, including the state’s new mask mandate.

All school department officials and school committee members are wearing masks except Chairwoman Wendy Happel. There are about 40 parents and guardians in attendance in the Middle/High School auditorium.

Parents speak out against mask mandate

Inital speakers are urging school officials to consider the mental health impacts of students wearing masks.

Selectman Mike Kolodziej, an Abington firefighter, said hospital emergency rooms aren’t filled with patients on respirators, rather with patients battling acute mental health issues. He said he’s lost track of the number of calls involving young people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Michael McDonald insisted that the “depression and suicide rates are astronomical” and that masks are damaging our children. “Unless we push back as a town committee, we’re going to watch our children descent into a mire,” he said.

Another mother brought two of her sons saying they’re struggling and wants the school commitete to see their faces.

Existing school policy

The mask policy from the 2020-2021 school year is still in place, Happel explained, so the board needs to vote to rescind in order to stay aligned with state education rules.

Before the vote School Committee member Heidi Hernandez said there was too much misinformation floating around and encouraged parents and guardians to reach out to board members if they have questions. She said she understands both sides, knows everyone has a family member that roams the schools’ halls, and hopes everyone will remain kind.

School committee members explained their feeling on the mask mandate. Not all support the state move. And a handful of aprents got very angry during the discusion, shouting from their seats that the mandate is not a law, and that the school district should should ignore it.

The committee voted unanimously to revoke last year’s mask policy.

School opening plans

Masks will be required until Oct. 1, including on the buses. After that schools with at least 80% vaccination rates can drop the mask mandate. Students will eat unmasked in the cafeterias. Parents are reminded to NOT SEND THEIR KIDS TO SCHOOL IF SICK. Students identified as close contacts wont have to quarantine if they’re both asymptomatic and fully vaccinated, or if exposed in a classroom while at least 3 feet apart and both are masked. Students will not be in cohorts this school year and may be mixing through the day. Under a new Test and Stay policy, close contacts can come to school is asymptomatic and take a rapid antigen test each day for up to 7 days from day of exposure. Testing will be available on weekends for student athletes. Test and Stay is not required.

There were more outbursts from cocnerned parents.

“If masks worked you wouldn’t need to do close contacts,” Kolodziej said before leaving angrily.

In response to a questions from a parent, Schafer said if the school district does not follow the mandate, that the days in school woudn’t count towards the required “time on learning,” which is also connected to state and federal funding.

Happel said discipline for students who refuse to wear masks is up to the school district and its disciplinary code. Schafer said for students who miss school because of quarantine, the policy for having students make up the work would be the same as it was for missed days pre-COVID.

The meeting has ended.

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