No new disciplinary policy for anti-mask students; board postpones sending letter to state

The Abington School Committee says existing disciplinary guidelines should sufficiently cover any expected problems with students to refuse to wear masks in class.

The board had considered adopting a new policy specifically addressing how it would handle students that defy the state’s current mask mandate.

School committee members Wendy Happel and Chris Coyle and Schools Superintendent Peter Schafer said during the board’s meeting Wednesday night that they reviewed policies from other school districts but ultimately felt Abington’s existing handbooks sufficed.

“We felt it wasn’t necessary to add another policy,” Coyle said.

State Education Commissioner Jeff Riley instituted a mask policy in all schools until October 1. Under the statewide rule, students are not allowed to attend classes if they’re not wearing a mask. Exemptions are allowed for students with certain health and behavioral needs.

Each Abington school has its own handbook that spells out how administrators handle problems with students and metes out discipline.

Schafer said students “basically are expected to be compliant with reasonable requests of a staff member.” If they don’t, the policies generally require administrators to first try talking directly with them, then call parents and ask them to intervene and possibly take them home. Students who refuse to wear masks won’t be allowed to go to class during this process and instead will be placed in an “in-school suspension” type setting, Schafer said.

What won’t happen is Abington Police hauling maskless kids away in handcuffs. Abington Police Deputy Chief Chris Cutter took the extraordinary step earlier this week of sending out a community-wide email stating that police would not be involved in the disciplinary process after parents started calling the station asking about rumors that police would be.

Schafer said police could become involved if maskless parents or other maskless visitors to school buildings refuse to comply with the state mandate, refuse to leave the building, and are considered trespassing. He said this aligns with existing school policies regarding trespassers.

No parents spoke on the issue.

The School Committee also postponed a vote on sending a letter to Gov. Charles Baker urging state education officials to return decisions around masks and other COVID mitigation measures back to local school committees.

Happel, who drafted the letter based on a similar missive sent by Hanover, said a number of other districts are doing the same.

“[We] strongly believe that local governance, including our school committee, can determine the best approach to COVID mitigation in our community while meeting the needs of families and keeping our community safe,” the draft Abington letter states.


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