Although Gov. Charlie Baker announced recently that given the low rate of outdoor transmission of COVID-19, students are no longer required to wear face coverings when outside, Hull Public Schools children in preschool through grade 8 will continue to wear face masks on school grounds during the school day to ensure their continued safety, according to the HPS updated face coverings policy approved by the School Committee on Tuesday.
“Students in grades 9 thru 12 will no longer have to wear masks when outdoors, even if social distancing cannot be maintained,” Superintendent of Schools Judith Kuehn said. Adults must continue to wear masks outside if social distancing cannot be maintained.
The governor’s guidance lifted the outdoor mask restriction effective May 18, which includes all outside activities such as recess and physical education, but states that students and adults must continue to wear face masks when inside under most circumstances.
School Nurse Kathleen Keegan explained her recommendation to not lift the outdoor face mask requirement for HPS’s younger students before the School Committee voted on the proposed changes to the face coverings policy during the remote meeting.
“We’ve been doing so well [with keeping the number of COVID-19 cases down], everyone has adapted to wearing masks, and the kids have no problem wearing face coverings during recess,” she said. “After talking with the school principals [and Kuehn], we recommend not making any change with only 15 days of school left.”
There is also a concern about where students would put their face masks if they took them off while outside during recess or another activity.
“We haven’t had any phone calls from parents asking why our [younger] students are still wearing masks,” Keegan said. “It’s working, so let’s keep [the face mask requirement] in place.”
There were mixed feelings among School Committee members about this recommendation, but after some discussion, the vote was 3 to 1 in favor, with member Stephanie Peters voting against.
“I have respected everything the school nurses and principals have said during this whole pandemic, but I disagree with this,” she said. “Kids should be outside during recess with no masks.”
Peters went on say that once this news hits the local media, “there may be more people questioning this policy.”
Member Ernest Minelli said that while he appreciated Peters’s comments “and in my heart I agree,” following a conversation with Kuehn that afternoon he decided to support the continued wearing of face masks in light of the fact that students are already used to wearing them and the school year will soon come to an end.
“We can examine this policy next year,” Minelli said. “If it was a different time in the school year [and not so close to the last day of classes], I might have a different view.”
Member Jennifer Fleming said while she doesn’t like to see students wearing face coverings outside – especially during hot weather – she felt that Keegan and Kuehn were more knowledgeable about this issue. She noted that the commissioner of education would be issuing new guidance for the 2021-22 school year.
Newly-appointed committee chair David Twombly also shared concerns about wearing masks outside during warmer weather but decided at this time, “Why abandon the ship?” He also noted that youth sports participants are not required to wear face masks.
While on the subject of hot weather, Minelli asked about ways the schools will support students and what precautions will be taken “as we get into the really hot weeks ahead.”
Keegan explained that sunscreen is available for use by students with parental permission, drinking water is readily accessible, the windows will be open, and with such small class sizes, it’s easier for teachers “to keep an eye on students [to ensure their well-being] and to encourage quieter activities” when the temperature climbs.
Kuehn also noted that at the high school, there are some opportunities for outdoor classes in the shade, while Assistant Superintendent David DeGennaro said that high school students have the option of spending some class time in the air-conditioned library and cafeteria.
According to the updated guidance, students and adults are required to continue wearing face masks when indoors.
The only exceptions, except under certain circumstances, will be during mask breaks or while eating or drinking when appropriate social distancing is enforced, according to Kuehn.
Exceptions to this policy – such as for students with medical, behavioral, or other challenges who are unable to wear masks – must be approved by the building principal in consultation with the school nurse or local Board of Health.
The face coverings policy will remain in place until rescinded by the School Committee on June 19. The last day of school is June 18.
In other business at the meeting:
* During a record-short meeting that lasted less than half an hour, a warm welcome was extended to new School Committee member Kyle Conley, who was elected to the committee on Saturday. Since she had not yet been sworn in, Conley participated as an observer. “I’m looking forward to being sworn in and being part of the [committee’s] work,” she said. “I will first and foremost remain focused on student learning.”
* The School Committee voted to not participate in school choice at Kuehn’s recommendation. Each year, every school committee in the Commonwealth is required to take this vote.
The Massachusetts Inter-District School Choice Program allows a parent to enroll his or her child in a school district that is not the child’s home district if the district of choice participates in the program.
Twombly suggested that the committee might “perhaps revisit this [decision] down the road” for another school year.