State Recommends Masks in Schools But Decision Will Be Local

by | Aug 4, 2021

School Committee to weigh COVID policy changes

When Gov. Dan McKee issued a recommendation last week (based on the latest from the CDC)  “that school districts set a policy that requires masking in schools this fall regardless of vaccination status,” he took a hot-button issue and tossed it back to individual school districts. That’s a change from last year’s decision by then-Gov. Gina Raimondo mandating mask wearing in K-12 schools statewide.

The East Greenwich School Committee will take up the issue at its meeting Tuesday (8/10). 

The highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 and the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island prompted McKee’s recommendation. Delta is far more transmissible than previous COVID-19 strains and is now causing nearly all virus cases in Rhode Island and nationwide. It has also been infecting fully vaccinated people at a higher – though still low – rate than other variants. Fortunately, medical officials say, Delta does not appear to be more lethal than other variants. And those who are fully vaccinated are overwhelmingly less likely to come down with a serious case of COVID-19.

But, of course, only those age 12 and older are currently eligible for the vaccine. And that’s where the mask-in-school debate gets real, with some parents vehemently opposed to their children having to wear a mask at school, arguing the masks do more harm than good. Others – including health officials – argue masks help to reduce the transmission of the virus and are not physically harmful. 

“We have not made a final decision at this time – we are continuing to work in collaboration with RIDE, RIDOH, other districts, our district physician, Dr. Silversmith, and school-nurse teachers,” said EG Supt. Alexis Meyer this week.

She said a lot has changed in the past year and Delta represented yet another change, but that overall there have been positive changes in health guidance compared to one year ago. For instance, masks are no longer required or even recommended outdoors, unless in large groups. And spacing is down to a 3-foot recommendation for unvaccinated younger students indoors and no recommended spacing at all for those eligible for the vaccine. Good ventilation remains an important tool against the spread of the virus, Meyer said, noting that each EG classroom is outfitted with a HEPA filter and that HVAC systems in each school were reviewed before the start of school last year. 

Meyer said the district will look at the rate of local infections in setting the policy and that the goal remains getting all kids back in the classroom. 

Find a link to the Department of Education’s guidance for Fall 2021 HERE. The School Committee meeting Tuesday will be their first in-person meeting since March 2020. It will also allow for people to log in from their phone or computer. Find the agenda HERE.

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