Mask-On, Mask-Off Updates from School Committee – December 6
In Monday’s School Committee meeting, the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Midge Connolly, gave an update on the possibility of moving Weston High School to mask-optional in the near future (as allowed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE). “Mask-optional” means that those who are uncomfortable or medically prevented from “un-masking” are not required to attend school without masks. Any student who is unvaccinated MUST mask.
The Owl shall mention at this point that this post endeavors to keep things as true to the meeting as possible, but these are not official minutes–I recommend you watch the meeting on Weston Media here.
Because of 13 cases in the school last week, the required levels (under 10 cases) were not met. In addition, the testing numbers remain far under 65%, though now almost 90% of students are now registered for testing. Earlier in the committee meeting, Dr. Connolly mentioned that there are 300 high school students registered for winter athletics (an “unprecedented” number, but not quite half of the HS student body which is, when I last checked 647 students), and school athletes are required to test weekly or face penalties such as starting the 100-meter dash 5 seconds behind the other starters, ditto swimming, and basketball they can only play with their left hands. No, I am kidding, they just cannot participate at all if they are untested. And yes, this season they are checking.
Last week, 43% of WHS students tested, which is up from 40%. Dr. Connolly mentioned that the schools did not have the infrastructure for fully testing until now, so with 300 student-athletes and their mandatory testing, it seems that this number will go up again soon.
Questions from School Committee included how long a case is counted in the case count? The answer is 10 days. So this week is just shot (that was not an answer given by the superintendent). Also, “fairness” came up in terms of requiring athletes to test but not, so far, requiring drama, band, orchestra, and chorus to test. The answer on band, orchestra, and chorus came back as because those are graded classes, they cannot require testing, only encourage it. After-school drama is not graded, so testing could be required of performers/crew.
“Consistency of messaging is critical,” said one SC member. The administration is looking for creative ways to get the message out that testing is key. Paul Peri, High School Principal, gave the student leaders credit for getting the message out about signing up for testing–the jump was from under 50% registered a month ago, to 90% this week.
Public comment later in the agenda netted mostly positive commentary towards mask-optional plans. One resident (epidemiologist and mom of two WHS alums) said that the mental health of the students is more important than looking only at Covid rates at this point and mentioned Hopkinton’s recent test of mask-optional, which appears to have been successful. Another resident mentioned that masks are not worn by students off-campus and they are all in proximity so vaccinations are the success, not necessarily the masks. She mentioned that the masking of indoor athletes makes her pretty unhappy because intense workouts make it hard to breathe through masks [SC Chair Anita Raman responded that the indoor athlete decision was MIAA’s and not Weston’s]. It was mentioned that the testing location is inconvenient for most students. Another resident was concerned with the Plexiglas separators in the high school cafeteria treating our kids unfairly.
Finally, a resident questioned the metrics and how they had been determined (under 10 cases, 65% testing, etc). Dr. Connolly said the 65% number was the number that was used last year so that was simply re-used. The under 10 cases came from the Board of Health for Weston and the Public Health department. The resident said he never heard of that number being brought up at the Board of Health. Other data will be presented at the next School Committee meeting.
Personal Owl opinion? Masks will not be optional until January 15 at the earliest. Weston is not known for leading-edge, for better or for worse, and Hopkinton, the home of the marathon starting line and once named Magwonkkommok is. We can only follow in their footsteps. Weston will soon offer vaccination clinics in town and schools (information coming), which has been done by Lincoln and other towns in the last month. We’re not first, but we’ll get there. Test, test, test, High Schoolers.