Town Crier

WILMINGTON — With the release of new guidelines from the Department of Elementary and Second Education mandating all students and staff wear masks and face coverings to start the school year, the School Committee was freed from the responsibility of approving a mask policy before their meeting last Wednesday night.

A few parents and residents shared their opinions during the public comment section on the DESE mask mandate.

The first commenter brought up questions about how teachers would be able to enforce masks if unvaccinated students didn’t need to wear them, and how unvaccinated students might face peer pressure to take off their masks.

Other residents suggested that at the very least there was no benefit for masks, and at the most there would be psychological damage and unknown long-term effects on students.

The updates from Su­perintendent Dr. Glenn Brand on school re-opening were related to other COVID-19 policies for the year. He started by saying that DESE also strongly recommends testing programs for school districts this year. In fact, he said WPS has applied for a testing program called Test-to-Stay, which is de­signed to help with close contacts in school.

Besides the DESE mask mandate for everyone in­doors regardless of vaccination status, he also ex­plained that masks will be required on busses and during lunch when not actively eating. He later clarified, when questioned by David Ragsdale, that this simply means students who finish lunch ear­ly should put their masks back on instead of taking the whole lunch time as a mask break.

They’ll be continuing the use of ventilation in all rooms 24/7 along with cleaning and disinfection as necessary, although it’s no longer required to wipe shared surfaces.

While DESE hasn’t of­fer­ed a physical distancing recommendation, Brand said that they will be maximizing physical distance to the greatest extent possible while keeping all students in classrooms five full-time days a week.

He restated that remote learning won’t count tow­ards structured learning time this year. He also said that any activities will be allowed to take place outdoors, and recess will be back to normal.

Remote access may still be provided for some meet­ings and gatherings like Back to School Nights. Students and spectators will both have to wear masks indoors at sports events. Performing arts students will need to wear masks and use safety measures like bell covers.

In addition to following up with the Test-to-Stay program, he listed other next steps including re­viewing all health-related protocols, collective bargaining with the Wilming­ton Teachers’ Association, and monitoring additional developments with DESE and the Department of Public Health.

Melissa Plowman asked what learning will look like for students who have to quarantine while waiting for a COVID-19 test or who test positive. The su­perintendent answered that the administration is in the process of figuring that out. His thinking was that it might be similar to the provision of work for when a child is ill.

It was his understanding that with the Test-to-Stay program, if someone is a close contact but asymptomatic, they don’t have to quarantine. Ragsdale confirmed that this was the case.

Plowman followed up by asking what would happen for a child who’s symptomatic but tests negative, or for one who is symptomatic but doesn’t know if they’re a close contact. Brand said that these were all questions that he would have to get back to them on, because he didn’t know enough about the program or about what DESE would allow.

Jay Samaha wondered how the district would be paying for the program. Brand answered that it sounded so far like the state would pay for it, but he wasn’t sure if there was anything that Wil­ming­ton would be expected to provide.

Jesse Fennelly asked how mask breaks would be put into the schedule. Brand replied that they haven’t scheduled universal mask breaks across schools or grade levels, but decided to leave it to teachers to find opportune times during class. Students will also get to take off their masks during their snack breaks, which are about 10-15 minutes depending on the grade level.

He added that mask breaks should be something that building principals and nurses should be mindful of and reminding staff to include throughout the day.

The first day of school for all students is Wednes­day, Sept. 1.

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