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School Committee votes to rescind mask policy immediately for outdoor usage

by | May 21, 2021 | Education, Featured: Education

Hopkinton Public Schools students will no longer be required to wear masks outdoors, as the School Committee voted unanimously at Thursday’s meeting to rescind the mandatory mask policy after reviewing vaccination data and guidance from both the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA).

The committee stressed that masks still are required to be worn indoors, in accordance with state guidelines, including the MIAA and DESE.

“We never expected that on Monday we would hear from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the MIAA, and yet we have,” superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said.

This news coincided with an immunization report released by town health director Shaun McAuliffe showing that 72 percent of the town’s 503 17- and 18-year-olds received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Looking at ages 14-18, the rate was 58 percent of the 992 students.

Athletic director Rich Cormier explained that the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) eliminated the mask requirement for outdoor youth sports activities. Staff, coaches and spectators still are required to wear masks. The MIAA followed suit on Tuesday.

“Many schools immediately, once this news came out, eliminated the mask requirement,” he said. He noted that Hopkinton teams played four different towns that had dropped the mask requirements, and he had to ask the opposing team members to wear masks because Hopkinton had not yet rescinded the policy.

“Honestly, to their credit, they did in the various sports that we were hosting,” he added. At this point, all of the schools in the Tri-Valley League have eliminated mask requirements outdoors.

School Committee member Lya Batlle-Rafferty asked if the indoor policy would still be in effect if the school’s mask policy was rescinded, and it was noted that the state’s indoor mandate still is in place.

Chair Amanda Fargiano asked if it would be in the School Committee’s purview to “go more lenient” and allow coaches to not wear masks if vaccinated. Cormier said coaches only need to use masks when they are within close contact.

The only exception, Cormier added, would be riding on the bus to and from games.

“I feel like MIAA made the decision for us,” Fargiano said. “Once you start competing with other schools and they aren’t wearing masks and you’re outdoors. Personally I would like to see athletics be mask-free. I think that’s the only logical conclusion when the other teams are doing it anyway.”

No more pool testing for seniors

The committee also voted 5-0 against senior pool testing. Cavanaugh recommended that the committee vote against senior pool testing. There had been “an awful lot of concern” in previous weeks about testing with a week of senior activities on the horizon.

Since that time, however, the Board of Health compiled data showing that 72 percent of 17- and 18-year-olds have received their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. This prompted Cavanaugh to consult with principal Evan Bishop.

Said Cavanaugh: “Given the vaccination process, given that a lot of these activities are in fact outdoors, given that DESE has started to kind of lift those restrictions, and having been in conversations with Mr. Bishop, we decided that pool testing may just sort of be overkill at this point in time.”

Committee votes no to school choice

Cavanaugh recommended that the committee vote against the school choice policy, which is an annual decision that comes before the committee. She cited the current overcrowding at the schools as the reason.

“It’s just very clear that we already have enrollment issues,” she said. “So to invite children in from other communities — even if they are tuition-ing in — we really just don’t have the room to absorb them.”

The committee voted unanimously not to participate in the program for 2021-22.

“This is the sort of initiative that normally I would be for to give more opportunities to students to come into a district like ours,” Batlle-Rafferty said. “But things are just so overwhelming right now that we just can’t afford it.”

“It feels a disservice to the broader community,” said committee member Joe Markey. “I think that communities having the ability to choose where to go is good. And I hope this is even more impetus for us to proceed with the building process so we have space for all students who want to attend our schools.”

If a child were accepted from another community, Hopkinton would be responsible for that child’s education for their academic career, as well their siblings.

Superintendent receives high marks

Cavanaugh received a stellar performance evaluation from the committee in her annual review, which was approved by a 5-0 vote. She received marks of “met” or “exceeded” in each of her goals. “Met” is the fourth-highest mark on the five-point scale, with “exceeded” being the highest. She met goals including student learning, district improvement and moving the schools toward proficiency in diversity, equity and social justice. Cavanaugh exceeded the goals in COVID-19 reopening and professional practice.

“In our assessment Dr. Cavanaugh is an exceptional educational leader,” Fargiano said as she read the report summary. “With all of her strengths so effortlessly demonstrated across so many standards and indicators, it is easy to take her abilities and aptitudes for granted. We know that Dr. Cavanaugh has ambitious plans for our district in the coming years, and we believe that based on her track record of delivery and her consistent strength across competencies and indicators, she will lead us to a future of greater success for our students.”

Cavanaugh thanked the committee and gave recognition to the 22 members of her staff and everyone who brought the district successfully through the pandemic.

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