READING – The School Committee last night reviewed vaccine and COVID-19 statistics and declined to make any changes in the mask mandate at Reading Memorial High School, putting off any policy change until at least January.
The committee expects new guidelines to be issued at that time which will prompt another review of the masking mandate policy in the Reading schools. Currently RMHS is the only Reading school with the option of removing masks under the state guidelines
Currently at RMHS, 92 percent of the total staff have been vaccinated, one worker has not, and 17 have not responded to requests for the medical information.
Among students 84 percent are totally vaccinated. Building wide (including RISE preschool) 81 percent of staff and preschool have been vaccinated, thus allowing the local option to drop the mask mandate under the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) guidelines.
Districtwide 93 percent of the staff is fully vaccinated including 95 percent at both middle schools. Student vaccination rates at Coolidge MS and Parker MS are 58 percent and 55 percent respectively. As of this week students from age five to 11 will now be eligible to obtain COVID19 vaccinations. The five elementary schools have staff vaccination rates from 91 percent to 95 percent.
DESE has extended the statewide mask mandate until January 15, 2022. DESE also notes that if a school has student and staff vaccination rates over 80 percent, then vaccinated individuals in that school would no longer be subject to the state mask requirement. While this guidance does apply to RMHS given the staff and student vaccination rates over 80 percent, Reading will still abide by the district masking policy (EBCFA), which requires face covering for all individuals in school buildings.
The guidance from DESE outlines that “[w]hether or not a school or district avails themselves of the 80 percent vaccination off ramp is a local decision to be made by school and district leaders in consultation with local health officials. In alignment with statewide guidance, unvaccinated students and staff would be required to continue wearing masks.”
Committee member Shawn Brandt said he was opposed to changing the 100 percent mask mandate as one in six high school students would be branded with the “scarlet letter” in having to wear a mask while vaccinated students could discard them. The rest of the committee agreed with him that this would be unfair to those students.
Carla Nazzaro said she was in favor of giving all high school students the option of not wearing masks but that would not be allowed under the DESE guidelines. She agreed that the masks should stay rather than put unvaccinated students in the uncomfortable position of having to keep them on. She made the motion to send a letter to DESE urging them to drop mask mandates at the highly vaccinated schools and to get other school districts to sign on to the letter with an eye toward dropping the mask mandates in January. That motion was supported by Wise but lost on a vote of 4-2.
Chairman Tom Wise pointed out that both vaccinated and unvaccinated students could get COVID and both could pass it on, the only difference being the severity of the disease.
Erin Gaffen reported five of the six members of her family had contracted COVID19 from the children, who did not get really sick. But both parents got very sick and she remains in favor of keeping the mask mandate for now and seeing what the state says for January 15.
Middle School Vaccination Clinics
In a related development the schools are holding vaccination clinics at Coolidge Middle School. A notice about the event from district officials reads as follows:
“With today’s announcement of COVID-19 vaccine approval for 5-11 year-olds, we are reaching out to share information about an upcoming vaccination clinic. We have partnered with VaxinateRx and Healthcare Family Pharmacy to offer Covid vaccines at the Coolidge Middle School. The first clinics are scheduled for November 5 from 1 to 5 p.m. and December 3 from 1 to 5 p.m. and additional clinics will continue to be scheduled every few weeks. All clinics will be held on site at the school. Parents should make appointments on the Reading Public Schools web site.
For anyone under the age of 18 a signed consent form must be presented in order to receive a vaccine and a parent/caregiver must accompany children under 12.
Please plan on staying for 15 minutes after being vaccinated (30 minutes for anyone who has had a prior anaphylactic reaction to any medication).
The schools will be administering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine which is currently approved for ages 12 and up and also for children ages 5-11 based on the recent CDC/FDA approval. Vaccination is free for everyone regardless of insurance coverage. If you are insured, please bring your insurance cards to the clinic.”