Kids (copy) (copy)

Berkshire County school districts will decide their own masking policies starting Feb. 28. 

As the state hands authority on masking back to individual school districts, several in Berkshire County say they will end their mask mandates in March. Others have postponed the decision.

The universal mask mandate ends Feb. 28. Masks will still be required for all districts in health facilities and on school buses after that point.

Here are updates on districts that have made recent announcements.

Pittsfield Public Schools: Mandate will last at least through March 4

Students and staff will return to Pittsfield Public Schools for at least one more week of masking following the February break.

Superintendent Joseph Curtis told families in an email Friday afternoon that mask requirements will be lifted either March 7 or March 14, depending on what happens with case numbers.

“If schools have to close due to inadequate staffing levels or if case counts rise to unprecedented levels during the days of February 28-March 4, the lifting of the mask requirement will be delayed until Monday, March 14, 2022,” Curtis wrote.

District students, staff and families will receive another email from the district before the masking requirement is fully lifted.

The superintendent said that once the mask requirement has been lifted, it will be up to individual families to establish whether students will continue to mask in school. The district won’t be monitoring or enforcing a family’s decision to mask.

A district poll on masking ended with 63.8 percent of more than 2,500 participants saying that mask requirements in PPS should end.

“This is another difficult step forward,” Curtis wrote. “For others, this next step will bring a sense of relief.

“I would suggest that as we move forward together, we try to overcome the biases we all have, work together, and ensure that all feel respected during this transition.”

North Adams Public Schools: Mandate will last at least through March 1

Masks will remain mandated in North Adams schools until the School Committee rescinds or changes its policy, Superintendent Barbara Malkas told the community Thursday.

The committee will revisit its mandate at a March 1 meeting, she said in an update.

BART: Mandate extended to April 6, pending further decision

The BART Charter Public School board of trustees voted to extend a masking mandate until its April 6 meeting, according to an announcement from district leaders.

“BART’s Administration and Board of Trustees recognize the complexity of education generally but especially during the continuing pandemic,” Executive Director Jay White and Principal Erin Hattaway wrote in an email to the community.

“BART occupies an unusual position as the only charter public school in Berkshire County, daily receiving students from more than fifteen widely dispersed communities in western Massachusetts. More than 80% of BART’s students arrive by bus. And, even though DESE’s masking mandate expires very soon, there remains in place the federal masking mandate for students and drivers in school buses and for all individuals in school nurses’ offices. A mask-optional environment is the Board’s eventual goal for BART — but not until we are convinced that it is what is best for the health of the BART Community and not until we have heard from our community about this.”

Central Berkshire Regional School District: Wahconah mandate to end March 21

Wahconah Regional High School students will move to optional masking as of March 21, according to Dick Lacatell, vice chair of the Central Berkshire Regional School District School Committee.

The vote to remove the masking requirement passed 12-3. A proposal to end the masking requirement Feb. 28 failed by a vote of 6-9, while a motion to end the mandate on March 14 also failed, but even more narrowly — by a vote of 7-8.

In March, the school committee will make a decision about masking for younger students in the district.

Berkshire Hills Regional School District: District mandate to end March 7

The Berkshire Hills Regional School District will move to optional masking as of March 7.

“That gives us time to see if there’s a post-vacation spike, as there has been after every single vacation throughout the pandemic,” Superintendent Peter Dillon said.

The new optional masking policy will last for 90 days and can be changed.

“Some of you will be happy about this, and some of you will be mad, and that’s what that is,” Dillon said.

He said the high vaccination rate helped him make the decision. The staff rate is nearly 100 percent; at the middle and high schools, the rate has crossed over 85 percent. About 65 percent of elementary school students are vaccinated.

Dillon also said pool testing at all three schools has turned up only “one or two positives in each building,” and this might call for an end to pool testing at some point, given how much time it is taking away from educational work.

The Eagle’s Francesca Paris, Heather Bellow, Meg Britton-Mehlisch and Larry Parnass contributed to this story.

Francesca Paris can be reached at fparis@berkshireeagle.com and 413-447-7311, ext. 239.

Pittsfield Reporter

Meg Britton-Mehlisch is the Pittsfield reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, she previously worked at the Prior Lake American and its sister publications under the Southwest News Media umbrella in Savage, Minnesota.

Managing editor for innovation

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.