An email from Superintendent of Schools Carol Cavanaugh to district families Monday indicated that Thursday’s School Committee meeting will include a presentation — but not a vote — about the return to school and face coverings to help protect against COVID-19.
The current guidelines from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), formed after consultation with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, recommend face coverings indoors for kindergarten through Grade 6 as well as for unvaccinated staff in all grades, unvaccinated students in Grades 7 and up, and unvaccinated visitors, while vaccinated students are OK to remain unmasked. As per federal public health order, all students and staff are required to wear masks on school buses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last month took a more aggressive stance, stating: “Due to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
Cavanaugh noted that — as of now, at least — local school boards are the ones making the call.
“While mask guidance has evolved from mid-June through the present, the common and consistent thread to date is that no federal or state mask mandates or requirements have been imposed on K-12 schools (other than on school buses and in school health offices, as noted),” she wrote. “Accordingly, decisions whether and when to require masks to be worn by staff and/or students in school buildings, and whether to impose different requirements based on vaccination status and/or grade level, are local school committee policy decisions. School districts have, in some cases, offered a differentiated masking protocol. In the event that Hopkinton chooses such a plan, documentation of staff and students’ vaccination status will remain confidential.”
Hopkinton Health Director Shaun McAuliffe said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the state offer a more cautious guideline — if not mandate — before the first day of school. He plans to meet with school and town emergency management personnel in the next couple of weeks to discuss the policies for face coverings and contact tracing and “make sure everybody is on the same page.”
McAuliffe said Hopkinton continues to do a good job minimizing the spread in town. A handful of cases were reported over the weekend, and he expects a few more to come in early this week. But he said all of the recent exposures originated from cases outside Hopkinton.
He added that while there have been a very small number of people in town who have been “fighting” him against any restrictions — including one aggressive individual for whom McAuliffe felt it necessary to contact the police — the town has been largely cooperative, and the numbers bear that out.
“We’ve demonstrated that we can do this,” McAuliffe said. “And really, our main weakness is the parent who sends their sick child to school. And I think all of us have done it in the past, with, ‘Oh, it might just be a cold,’ or, ‘Their allergies are bugging them a lot today.’ But this isn’t the time or the place to play this game. If we want a sense of continuity in our academic environment, in our athletic environment, we need to be thinking of others and thinking of how are actions might impact others.”
Cavanaugh’s email includes a chart breaking down by age groups how many people in town have been vaccinated. Those who paid close attention might have noticed that some of the numbers don’t add up — there are more people listed as having received their first dose of the vaccine than there are residents in a few age groups. McAuliffe explained that this is because the population numbers are from a previous census. The chart shows the town with an overall population of 16,382, while — as Town Clerk Connor Degan noted at last Tuesday’s Select Board meeting — Hopkinton’s actual population is just under 19,000.
McAuliffe said last month that about 92 percent of eligible (12 and older) residents in town have been vaccinated, which ranks Hopkinton among the best in the state.