Masks mandated in Westport schools

State education commissioner was given authority Tuesday to mandate masks

By Ted Hayes
Posted 8/24/21

The Westport School Committee voted unanimously earlier this month to not mandate the wearing of masks once school starts Tuesday, Sept. 7, but that decision was taken out of their hands this …

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Masks mandated in Westport schools

State education commissioner was given authority Tuesday to mandate masks

Posted

The Westport School Committee voted unanimously earlier this month to not mandate the wearing of masks once school starts Tuesday, Sept. 7, but that decision was taken out of their hands this week.

On Tuesday, Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley asked for and was given by the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education the authority to mandate the indoor wearing of masks by all students over the age of five, as well as all teachers and staff. The mandate be in place until at least Friday, Oct. 1.

Under the policy, middle and high schools will be allowed to lift the mandate after that date for vaccinated students and staff, but only if schools meet a certain vaccination rate — at least 80 percent of students and staff in a school building must be vaccinated. Unvaccinated students and staff will still be required to wear masks, though there would be exceptions for students who cannot wear a mask due to medical conditions or behavioral needs.

“As we have always done, the Westport Community Schools will put the health and well-being of our students and staff first as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic,” Superintendent Thomas Aubin said. “While this latest mask mandate may not be what students and families wanted to hear, we must follow the latest guidance by DESE in regard to keeping our school community safe. We encourage everyone to continue practicing COVID safety precautions, and if we all do our part we hope to transition to no longer requiring masks in our schools in the near future.”

On Thursday, August 12, the Westport School Committee unanimously declined to issue a mask mandate for the coming school year, with some members saying the science out there is conflicting and inconclusive. They also pointed to state leadership, which at the time had not come out in favor of mask mandates. They pledged to review mandates at every meeting going forward.

"We are in a very different place this year than we were last year," committee member Tony Viveiros said. Last year, "there was no science; not much of anything was really known. I think everyone was much more scared of everything."

Things have changed, he and several other members said. And with the "large amount of misinformation that's out there," Nancy Stanton-Cross added, "we have to keep things in perspective."

While strongly recommending that students in the younger grades be masked, chairwoman Nancy Tavares said "I'm leaning a little more toward having this be a parent choice."

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