Update on Mask Friendly Learning Environment

February 15, 2022

 

Dear Needham Public Schools Families:                         

 

On February 9th Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Riley released an update stating that the statewide school mask mandate will end on Monday, February 28th for students and staff in grades K-12, vaccinated and unvaccinated. The Commissioner is also allowing local communities to determine an implementation timeline that makes sense for individual school districts.  Both DESE and the MA Department of Public Health (DPH) strongly recommend unvaccinated individuals continue to wear masks in school settings. 

 

Based on improving local health metrics, high staff and student vaccination rates, the availability of symptomatic and at home testing, and the continued priority the Needham Public Schools (NPS) places on maintaining healthy schools, the Joint Committee on Health and Safety has recommended to me that the NPS implement a mask friendly learning environment for all K-12 students and staff effective Monday, March 7th. They have also recommended that for the time being Preschool staff and students remain masked.

 

The Joint Committee on Health and Safety has met regularly since the summer of 2020 and has provided advice and guidance to me to ensure the safe and healthy operations of the Needham Public Schools during the pandemic.  Through the evaluation of medical and public health data; setting standards for the safe operation of schools; and recommending various health protocols and procedures, we have been able to keep our schools open for learning since the fall of 2020.


Given the Commissioner’s latest announcement; the reality that positive cases continue to decline statewide and locally; the availability of both symptomatic and at home testing for families and staff; the high rate of student vaccinations; the continued focus on health and safety protocols in our schools; and  the desire to continue to nurture a supportive, caring, and student-centered experience in each classroom and school, the Joint Committee on Health and Safety recommends I implement the following:


Create a Mask Friendly Learning Environment

A mask friendly environment recognizes and respects all our students and staff. Depending on their individual and family health risks and needs, students and staff can choose whether to wear a mask or not while in the school buildings. The district will reinforce personal choice and the importance of supporting those whose decisions differ from others. Masks must still be worn in school health offices and on school transportation, as federally mandated. Preschool students and staff will also continue to mask.

 

Plan for the Change

We have been deliberate about each of the health and safety measures we have taken and creating a mask friendly learning environment is no exception. Given the likelihood of family travel over the upcoming break and possible increased risk of exposure, we think it makes sense to wait one week before implementation. In collaboration with school staff, principals will thoughtfully plan the rollout of information and support for staff and students to ensure a smooth transition. Staff should develop and share developmentally appropriate lessons, protocols, and announcements to explain how we will act as a school community where some decide to wear a mask and others do not. Families are encouraged to engage in conversations with their children to determine their mask preferences.  School staff will use the week after February vacation to share plans and expectations with students.


Consider a Timeline and Next Steps

A thoughtful timeline will allow for a successful transition to a mask friendly environment:

- All students/staff Grades K-12: On March 7th, the Needham Public Schools mask mandate ends and wearing a mask is optional for all individuals, vaccinated and unvaccinated.

- Preschool: The mask requirement will remain in place at the preschool level for students and staff until we receive additional guidance and information.

- The Joint Committee on Health and Safety will continue to meet regularly to monitor health metrics and, if necessary, recommend to the superintendent a return to masking should that be necessary.

 

Maintain the Commitment to Health and Safety

The district will continue to expect from families and staff the daily completion of the health attestation; continue with hygiene and ventilation protocols; and provide at-home rapid tests for students and staff who opt in and a symptomatic testing program for those experiencing symptoms in school. We will continue to emphasize the importance of vaccinations, particularly for younger students who may not yet have had the opportunity to get the vaccine or booster.  The Joint Committee on Health and Safety will continue to advise the superintendent about any health and safety concerns related to COVID and will, if circumstances warrant, recommend adjustments to health protocols, including a return to masking.

 

Tonight, I will update the School Committee about our plans to create a mask friendly learning environment and share additional health and safety updates.

 

With deep appreciation to the Joint Committee on Health and Safety, all of our students, their families, and staff who have patiently and carefully adhered to all health-related protocols, including masking, we look forward to the successful implementation of a mask friendly learning environment on March 7th.

 

Respectfully,

 

Dan Gutekanst

Superintendent of Schools
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