TEWKSBURY — As the ongoing pandemic continues, so does the controversy over wearing face masks at school.
On Aug. 25, 2021, the Board at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued a mandate requiring masks to be worn in school for students and staff through Oct. 1, 2021.
After the October first date, if schools can demonstrate a vaccination rate of 80 percent or higher for student and staff population, the school would no longer be subject to the DESE mask requirements.
This requirement was issued shortly after the Tewksbury School Committee had voted to enforce a 60-day mask requirement.
News of the mask requirement did not sit well with many, including Tewksbury Memorial High School student, Maximus Mattuchio.
Mattuchio, a junior at TMHS, felt that the community as a whole had been let down by the recent mask mandate decision.
“I felt as though the mask mandate for all students, regardless of vaccination status, was contradictory to everything that we had been told over the past year and a half,” Mattuchio stated. “After talking to many of my peers, it became evident to me that many of us felt the same way, but nobody was truly willing to speak out.”
That is when Mattuchio decided to do something himself.
Mattuchio started an online petition to overturn the mask mandate at TMHS, and turned to social media to get the word out about his petition. With the help of Facebook posts, Mattuchio has been featured on several local news broadcasts, bringing more light to his cause.
Stated on his online petition, Mattuchio details that it is pointless to enforce a town-wide public school mask mandate when the statewide vaccination rate of Massachusetts is almost 80 percent (eds. note: it is almost 80 in Middlesex County; other counties remain slightly lower), and a mask mandate will take away any incentive for individuals to become vaccinated.
According to the Massachusetts government website, vaccination rates in the town of Tewksbury for students ages 12-15 are only at 38 percent, and students ages 16-19 are 61 percent fully vaccinated.
“This issue is personal for me,” said Mattuchio. “The past year has been extremely tough for many of us, including myself. I have personally lost my grandfather six months ago to a long fought battle with COVID-19.”
Despite having a close personal loss, Mattuchio feels the student body is at a low risk for contacting COVID-19 because of the successful vaccine roll out in Massachusetts.
However, he does encourage his classmates and community to get vaccinated, but feels it is an individual's own personal choice.
“It comes down to the very same principles and freedoms that this great country was built on. Individuals should certainly consider being vaccinated, but it should come down to a personal decision made by the individual,” said Mattuchio.
To date, Mattuchio’s petition has received 298 signatures. The current TMHS student population is 918 with 66 faculty members.
Now that there is a statewide mask mandate in place, Mattuchios fight is far from over.
He said, “I know that I’m going to have to work even harder to gain the support that I need to make a large enough impact to create the opportunity to fight this on a statewide level.”