PITTSFIELD — In the hours before the February break, Superintendent Joseph Curtis made an announcement to teachers, staff members and families that the districtwide mask mandate will end this month.
In the days since students have returned to class, coronavirus cases have remained low — as of late Tuesday there were 11 active cases — giving every indication that the superintendent will likely announce Friday that the mask mandate will end March 7.
A day after K-12 students returned to classrooms with a statewide mask mandate no longer in place, the Baker administration announced that children no longer need to mask up while riding in school buses or vans.
Curtis said given the recent rule changes at the state and federal level around masking and transportation serves, the district’s masking requirement on buses will likely end with the in-school mandate.
That gives the district a handful of days to prepare the PPS community for the shift to optional masking.
On Sunday, the superintendent sent out a guidance document to district staff with a kind of lesson plan for discussing the transition from a mask mandate to optional masking policy.
“We didn’t really get into specifics of ‘Don’t say this, don’t say that.’ It really revolved around the conversation and lesson itself and district rule No. 4, which is respect and value everyone’s individual and group identity,” Curtis said.
District lessons and conversations about making the transition to optional masking began Tuesday at Pittsfield High School with a video presentation during students’ homeroom time. Curtis said lessons will continue at each school over the course of the week.
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.
Violations of the district’s No. 4 rule — like bullying a student for deciding to wear or not wear a mask — come with consequences.
In the letter to district families, Curtis said that a student’s first violation of the rule will be followed with a “restorative conversation” between the student and their teacher and a note home to the student’s family.
A second violation will require a visit to a “reset” teacher, administrator or student support paraprofessional and a meeting with the student’s parents or caregiver.
If a student has a third violation related to not respecting their peer’s masking decision, a bullying investigation will be launched and the student could receive in-school or out-of-school suspension.
As governors across the county began rolling back coronavirus restrictions and mask requirements, Curtis said could feel that a shift in thinking was heading to Massachusetts.
The superintendent said he began meeting with the district’s school adjustment counselors and psychologists several weeks ago to discuss how to support students in the transition, even before the Baker Administration made a mid-February announcement ending their mask mandate.
During those meetings staff formulated a plan. Over the next couple weeks counselors will be focusing on being present in the “less structured” areas of schools like the hallways and common spaces, according to Curtis.
“Being more visually present during this time [will allow staff to] hear conversations — talking between and within student groups — and really assess situations and provide help or intervention on the spot,” Curtis said. He added that school leaders will be contacting families with the best way to get in contact with support staff.
Though superintendent reinforced that the district will leave the conversations about whether or not masking is right for a student up to individual families.