News Stories, School News

School Committee Votes to Officially End Local Mask Mandate Starting February 28

Burlington educators will be able to see the beaming faces of their students starting after the end of February vacation.

On Wednesday night the Burlington School Committee convened a special meeting for the sole purpose of rescinding the district’s mask mandate. This came a week after Gov. Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) announced the end of the mandate for all Massachusetts public schools. The state, and now the district, mandates are set to expire on Monday, February 28.

Superintendent Eric Conti said he recommended rescinding the mandate and pointed out that the numbers of COVID-19 infections in the district had been falling over the last few weeks. He said that during the week of January 8 to 15 the district had 118 cases, in the week of January 15 to 22 there were 118 cases, from January 22 to 29 there were 66 cases, from January 22 to February 5 there were 42 cases and last week there were only 18 cases reported in the district.

“Cases have dropped significantly,” he said.

Conti also pointed to the district’s vaccination numbers. He said that in the high school over 80 percent of students and staff were fully vaccinated and Marshall Simonds Middle School was in the vicinity of 80 percent. At the elementary level about 50 percent of students and staff were vaccinated though Conti pointed out they didn’t have the exact figures for each of the four schools.

Members of the School Committee said they were also in favor of rescinding the mandate though members Martha Simon and Carl Foss floated the idea of perhaps delaying the change at the elementary level. They argued that in the past, such as after the holiday break, the district saw a surge of cases following a break where families either traveled or perhaps attended events with larger crowds. They also said this would give more time for elementary students to get their vaccinations.

Other members did not agree and thought the 28th the best day to make the change for all levels.

“I understand the point and am sure there are people who feel that way but I don’t,” member Christine Monaco said. “I think we should rescind it across the board.”

School administration and School Committee members also emphasized that while there will no longer be a mandate any student or faculty member who chooses to wear a mask will be free to do so. They also stressed that there should be an emphasis that nobody feel badgered about their decision to wear a mask or not and it should be a priority among staff to stop any bullying of students over their choice.

“I would expect zero tolerance on mask bullying in school,” Monaco said. “We have to let everybody do what they feel is best.”

Members of the committee also said they would expect families to make the responsible choice and have their students wear masks if there is any reason to believe they may have been exposed to the virus.

“I hope if they made the decision to go out of state or think they could have been exposed they would do the right thing and ask their students to wear a mask,” member Katherine Bond said.

In the end the committee voted unanimously to rescind the local mandate starting on February 28.

Due to federal regulations masks are still required on public transportation including school buses and in medical settings like the school nurse’s office. Superintendent Conti said masks would be made available at all school nurse offices so the requirement would not be an impediment to any child who needed to be seen.