READING - At the School Committee meeting late last week School Superintendent Thomas Milaschewski presented the first data review in alignment with the commitment the School Committee made with respect to the policy on the wearing of masks.
He outlined some of the key data and trends that can be culled from the State data archives as well as local and school data.
Currently the schools are operating under a full masking mandate issued state wide by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) which has been extended through October. However, DESE will issue a revision as of October 15 which would allow school districts the option of altering the full mask mandate if 80% of students and staff in a school are fully vaccinated. Currently (as of September 21) over 80% of the staff surveyed are fully vaccinated and the percentage of Reading residents aged 16-19 in that category has increased from 88.6% at the start of school to 92.4%. Reading Memorial High School will exceed the DESE threshold for some relaxation of masking rules when the policy is announced pending a more complete review of vaccination statistics for all staff categories at the school The discussion will be continued at the School Committee’s next meeting October 14.
The 25 minute discussion led by Milaschewski and committee chair Tom Wise revealed committee members Shawn Brandt, and Sarah Mclauchlin were fully behind continuing the full mask mandate and other committee members preferred to wait and see the DESE ruling and the COVID and vaccination numbers the next time the issue is on the agenda (Chuck Robinson was unable to attend the Sept. 30, meeting).
Mclauchlin remarked “the vaccination rate is only one piece of the data”, adding she couldn’t support changing the masking rule. Brandt also said he was not ready to make any changes.
Other facts of note brought out at the session included that so far there have been only 39 total COVID cases in the schools and none of the cases were the result of transmission through the schools. There were 138 close contacts who took advantage of the test and stay program and were all negative and were able to stay in school and to date 487 individual COVID-19 tests have been administered and all have been negative.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in Reading dropped from 80 to 70 cases
during the two week period ending September 18.
Committee member Erin Gaffen complained there were instances of students and staff not wearing masks and wondered how any change in policy from the total masking could be monitored.
In the report Wise concluded “we have many points of data to consider as we look at the potential revisions of this policy. Unfortunately, they do not align and point in a single direction. As you know, the Commissioner has provided us with the ability to allow vaccinated staff and students at schools with greater than 80% vaccination rate to remove their masks effective the 15th of October. Whether we want to avail ourselves of that option, or if we should at all, will likely be a point of discussion going forward. The above additional data and points of information may play into that in addition to the points of data we have already committed to monitoring.”