NORTH ADAMS — Mask up for school this year.
The North Adams School Committee passed a policy Monday evening that requires face coverings for anyone in school buildings and on school transportation. They also are required outdoors when social distancing is not possible.
The policy will remain until the School Committee rescinds it.
There are exceptions to the mask requirement for students who have medical or behavioral reasons that make it unsafe to wear a mask. A doctor's note is required for an exemption, the policy reads.
Masks are not required while eating or drinking if social distance can be maintained.
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's guidance says that when indoors, masks are "strongly recommended" for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, unvaccinated staff, unvaccinated students in grades seven and above, and unvaccinated visitors.
As the school year approaches, other districts are taking on the question of mask rules. The Pittsfield School Committee is set to vote on whether masks will be required at a meeting Wednesday.
At Monday evening’s meeting, North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard shared about half a dozen public comments in support of requiring masks in school.
A comment from leaders of the North Adams Teachers Association expressed support for a universal mask rule. Another comment appeared to be from someone who works in the schools.
“I am terrified at the prospect of allowing vaccinated students to be unmasked on the honor system, and equally terrified to be around colleagues who I know do not mask outside of school, and have not been vaccinated,” it reads. “I have a ten year old who has pre-existing conditions and I am afraid of what I will transmit to her if masks are not mandatory.”
Superintendent Barbara Malkas emphasized the importance of vaccination for those who are old enough to get vaccinated. Those younger than 12 are not eligible for vaccinations, Bernard noted.
“I can’t stress this enough: Vaccination is the single most important COVID mitigation strategy,” Malkas said.
Countywide, 64 percent of those ages 12 to 15 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to data released last week from the state Department of Public Health. Sixty-seven percent of people ages 16 to 19 in the county have gotten at least one dose, the data shows. The county figures are on par with state averages, but Malkas said North Adams lags behind. “We really want to encourage our parents and our students to get the vaccine.”
It’s important to not come to school when sick, Malkas said.
“Of course, a very important mitigation strategy: Our symptomatic students need to stay home. Our symptomatic staff need to stay home,” she said.
The district conducted an air-quality and ventilation audit and made improvements, Malkas said. This fall, the district also plans to offer students and staff optional testing, she said.
Vice Chair Heather Boulger said she had heard from people for and against a universal mask policy. While she said she was supportive of a policy, “I am still concerned that whatever we decide tonight, we’re still going to lose students and we’re still going to lose faculty for whatever their personal feelings might be.”
Member Karen Bond agreed.
“There are going to be people unhappy, regardless of the vote tonight,” she said, adding that, “our goal is to keep our students and our staff safe and healthy and in school.”
At Monday’s meeting, the committee also discussed whether the group’s meeting would continue virtually or change to be in person.
Member Tara Jacobs said she had mixed feelings.
“If students must be in person I feel like we should be meeting in person, too, but to do it safely,” she said.
Virtual meetings made it easier for some to attend, said member Emily Daunis.
“There’s 30 people on the call right now,” she said, noting she did not see that many people at meetings when they were in person. “Zoom has opened up the audience. Many more people can listen in and participate.”
The group discussed finding a large location for possible future meetings. The committee voted to table the topic to September’s meeting.