WILMINGTON, MA — Will Wilmington students be required to wear masks in school this fall?
On Friday, July 30, 2021, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), in consultation with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), released new mask guidance for school districts across the state.
Mask guidance included:
- This fall, DESE and DPH strongly recommend that all students in kindergarten through grade 6 wear masks when indoors, except students who cannot do so due to medical conditions or behavioral needs. Masks are not necessary outdoors and may be removed while eating indoors.
- DESE and DPH recommend that schools allow vaccinated students to remain unmasked.
- Any individual at higher risk for severe disease from COVID or with a household member who is at high risk is encouraged to mask regardless of vaccination status consistent with the updated DPH Advisory on Face Coverings and Masks.
- Any child or family who prefers to mask at school should be supported in this choice.
- By federal public health order, all students and staff are required to wear masks on school buses at this time.
- All staff and students must wear masks while in school health offices.
Despite these recommendations, DESE stressed that “individual districts should make decisions based on their own particular circumstances.”
As of Saturday, July 31, 2021 at noon, the Wilmington Health Department reported that Wilmington currently has 12 active positive COVID-19 cases, with a 1.2% positivity rate. 9 of the 12 cases are “breakthrough cases” where the infected were already vaccinated.
The Wilmington School Committee met on Wednesday, July 28, 2021– two days prior to the new state’s new mask guidance — and did not discuss the issue.
Several parents, however, raised the question in written public comments submitted to School Committee members prior to the meeting, which are part of the public record.
One parent urged the School Committee to require masks for all students.
“I am writing to urge you to do the right thing and require masks and social distancing for the upcoming school year. This pandemic is far from over.” wrote one parent. “How can we have restrictions in place to attend the school board meeting, but send unvaccinated children to school without masks, without enough space in the classroom, to sit side by side for the next 6 or more hours every day? I am already uncomfortable sending my child to in-person school in September, with cases in the state and country doubling most days, let alone unmasked and unvaccinated.”
Another parent, on the other hand, argued that masks should be optional for students, with the decision left up to the families.
“I urge you to make mask wearing for kids OPTIONAL this school year,” wrote the parent. “All adult personnel that wanted to get vaccinated have already had the chance to be vaccinated and therefore should not fear children that they are teaching. Kids are not at risk as the science has proved many times again and again yet we keep ignoring the science. Do not be fooled by the American Pediatrics Association whose biggest contributor is Pfizer.”
“By mandating masks you will be damaging another school year,” she continued. “Masks should be optional. Parents that are comfortable with their children going to school without a mask should not be forced to live like the lowest common denominator. Every one should be free to do what is best for them, having made that decision themselves for what’s best for them.”
A third parent, meanwhile, felt the district should continue to offer a remote option to students, despite the state’s requirements that all districts and schools be in-person, full-time, five days a week this fall.
“With rising COVID cases and our children still unable to be vaccinated, please offer a remote option as you did last year to protect families like ours where both adults have chronic autoimmune illnesses and are immunosuppressed,” wrote the parent. “Families like our will be unable to allow our children to attend WPS schools in the fall if there is not a remote option.”
A fourth parent tried to weigh in during the meeting, but he was ruled out of order because he tried to speak outside of the “public comments” portion of the meeting, and because the mask guidance was not on the agenda. He was encouraged to reach out to the Superintendent and School Committee Chairwoman to schedule a meeting to discuss his concerns.
The Wilmington School Committee is next scheduled to meet on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, but — at the end of Wednesday’s meeting — Chairwoman Jennifer Bryson suggested a special meeting will likely be called earlier in August. It is unclear if the mask guidance will be discussed at that time.
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