At a special meeting in the middle of Greenwich Public Schools vacation week, the Board of Education voted unanimously to rescind the mask mandate.
Masks were mandated as a mitigation strategy against the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost two years ago the pandemic swept the country and Greenwich Schools closed down on March 13, 2020.
Wednesday’s meeting took place just hours after Greenwich Hospital president Diane Kelly announced at a press conference there were just four Covid-positive patients in the hospital, and none in the ICU.
During the meeting, BOE chair Kathleen Stowe noted that despite so many families being on vacation, 230 people tuned into Zoom for the meeting on whether to rescind the schools mask mandate after the state mandate expires.
On Feb 7, Governor Lamont announced that in anticipation of his executive powers coming to a close on Feb 15, per mutual agreement with the legislature, he recommended ending the statewide school mask mandate on Feb 28, inclusive of sports.
Lamont said after the state mandate is lifted, it would be up to mayors and schools superintendents to make the decision district by district.
Christina Downey moved that the policy be rescinded effective at the start of the school day on March 1, 2022. She noted there was nothing in district policies preventing anyone from wearing a mask.
“It would be an individual’s choice,” she said.
It was noted that masks on school buses will continue to re required per federal law.
Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones said she anticipated guidance from the state will be issued for protocols including quarantines.
She said that educational issues were equally important as safety issues.
She noted the staff vaccination rate in Greenwich Schools was 97%.
Vaccination rates for students age 12-17 was 95%.
Vaccination rates for 5-11 year-olds was 49% completed, with 10% of students in the process of becoming fully vaccinated.
“We feel like we have a lot of positive indicators to move in this direction. It’s a great step forward, and we’re very hopeful for the rest of the year,” Jones added.
The superintendent confirmed the district would not have to return any Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund money as the result of rescinding mask wearing.
The ESSER Fund is federal dollars allotted to help state education departments and US school districts combat the impacts Covid-19 on students and K-12 education.
Jones confirmed that it was possible the CT Dept of Health could again require children wear masks at school.
She said the situation will be monitored continuously, and she expected state and local guidance to be forthcoming on such practices as quarantining for five days before returning to school with a mask, or quarantining 10 days before returning to school without a mask.
“It does follow what CDC recommends,” she said. “I think there is strong support for that.”
The Covid tracker on the Greenwich Schools website will continue to be updated.
Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony asked about other mitigation strategies including the use of plexiglass shields.
“It’s one step at a time,” Jones said, adding that some staff feel safer using plexiglass shields.
“It’s a fine line between what we want to do for children, and do what we believe is right, and also managing to make sure our staff feel supported,” Jones said.
Mr. Mercanti-Anthony said the district should pay attention to the bullying policy and how students are treating each other.
“It sounds like we are going to have some students in masks, and some students not in masks,” he said. “I think reminding everyone of the bullying policy and making sure it is fully enforced is going to be essential during this transition period.”
Cody Kittle said, “There’s never been an established causal relationship between cloth masks and transmission rates. I think it’s broadly accepted now that we should separate any further interventions from the idea that whatever the rate is in town, that is somehow related to cloth masks.”
Given some people would choose to continue to wear masks, Mr. Kittle said it would damage to the cause of mask choice if people weren’t respectful of choices other people make.
“I hope this is a teachable moment for students. I think this has been a failed experiment and the costs have been greater than the benefits,” Kittle added. “I hope that when they’re older, they can look back on this and say deference to bureaucrats and authority figures doesn’t always pay.”
“Now is the time,” said Karen Kowalski. “I think our students are well equipped to deal with the transition and we can talk to our kids about how to treat students who do wear masks and those who don’t, and approach this new era of the pandemic with open arms.”
The board voted unanimously 8-0 to rescind the mask mandate effective March 1, 2022.