NORTH ADAMS — Masks will continue to be required in city schools, but that might change in mid-March.
The School Committee decided unanimously Tuesday evening to not change the current masking requirement and to take the issue up again at a special meeting on March 14 at 4:30 p.m.
On Monday, a state mask mandate in schools expired. But locally, the North Adams School Committee passed a mask requirement in August 2021 that is still in effect, Superintendent Barbara Malkas said Tuesday night.
“We need to revisit our own policy,” she said.
Students returned from a weeklong vacation Monday, and Malkas and School Committee members wanted to see if the break will impact COVID-19 cases before changing the masking rules.
Malkas said she spoke to other county school leaders. “Most other schools wanted to wait until an appropriate amount of time after the school vacation,” she said. “Personally that is the view that I support. Because I don’t want us to be in a situation where we are making a decision — masks no longer have to be worn in school — and then within a few days or a week, we find ourselves in a situation where we should be putting the masks back on ... I think that that transition will be harder than just waiting another two weeks.”
Some schools already finalized reversing mask mandates. Starting March 14, masks are optional in public schools in Lenox if newly reported cases in each building are lower than 2 percent of a building population, the School Committee decided Monday.
In a survey that 102 North Adams Teachers Association members took, more than half said they were against completely lifting the mask mandate in the schools, Judith Fairweather, a teacher at Drury High School and a leader of the North Adams Teachers Association, told the committee.
“About two thirds of our members would like to see unvaccinated staff and students still mask,” she said. “Our members expressed concerns around protecting those who will still choose to mask and also around our low rate of vaccination.”
51 percent of all students in seventh through twelfth grade reported that they were vaccinated, Malkas said. Across all elementary schools, only 26% of students reported they were vaccinated. But the response rate to the recent elementary school survey was low — just 37 percent of students responded, Malkas said.
Vaccinated statues are self-reported, Malkas emphasized. “It’s people voluntarily providing us their vaccination status,” she said.
School staff have a much higher rate of vaccination. 90.6 percent of all staff are vaccinated, according to Malkas.