Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice says:
As the week comes to a close, I would like to share the latest update on the Governor’s Executive Order mandating universal masking in schools. There are a number of steps involved, and I will outline below in detail.
The Governor’s Recommendation and the CT Legislative Process
The statewide mask mandate for schools in Connecticut is set to expire at midnight on February 15. On February 7 Governor Lamont held a press conference, and with the support of the state Department of Public Health, he recommended that the statewide mask mandate in Connecticut schools extend to February 28. Under the Governor’s recommended proposal, local school districts would have the authority to make decisions about mask requirements in schools.
Yesterday, the state House of Representatives voted to extend the current school mask requirements until February 28, after which local communities will determine their own school masking requirements.
The Senate is scheduled to act on this legislation on February 14. It is expected they will follow suit. and that the current state mandate requiring masks in schools will expire on February 28.
With these decisions and actions at the state level, I would like to make our school community aware that public transportation, i.e. school buses, continues to be governed by federal requirements for universal masking and the actions of the Governor and legislature do not change federal requirements. Unless there is action at the federal level, masks will continue to be required on our buses.
It is still uncertain at this time what the rules and public health guidance will be for masking in local school districts when the governor’s emergency powers expire and the State Senate takes final action. Therefore, at this time, it would be premature for us to make a final determination regarding masking in our schools. Yet all signs appear to indicate that this state universal masking requirement will sunset on February 28.
Next Steps – Superintendent’s Recommendation to End the Mask Mandate
In the coming days, as these final pieces of information are provided at the state level, I will continue to consult with our local health district and medical advisor. I intend to make a recommendation to the Board of Education at their anticipated special meeting on Wednesday February 16 to end the mask mandate in the Westport Public Schools when permitted at the state level, perhaps as early as February 28.
The governor’s recommendation, supported by the Department of Public Health, indicates that universal masking is not a necessary public health intervention at this point in time. Vaccination rates in our community, even across our student population, are among the highest in the state. In addition, as a result of the widespread infection rate of the Omicron variant, many have also developed natural immunity.
Daily infection rates have dropped precipitously over the past few weeks as noted by our daily reports. Notably, our daily case rates are reported for the entire school community population, which is over 5,000 students, and approximately 1,000 employees. We have averaged just over 5 new daily cases out of over 6,000 individuals this week. Furthermore, our recent weekly serial testing of 539 students surfaced only 2 positive cases on Monday.
All of these factors influence my final recommendation to the Board of Education to end the mask mandate in our schools.
However, there are many considerations we must take into account with any elimination of the universal masking mandate. It is important to note as the pandemic continues to evolve, it will be necessary to maintain mitigating measures. Ventilation, social distancing, hand hygiene, weekly testing, and self-isolation when testing positive, all continue to be effective means in controlling virus spread. We will continue to implement these measures to the extent possible.
Consideration for Others
Along with many issues in the modern world, the pandemic, vaccines, and masking, have become polarizing topics. It is not lost on me that while many rightfully feel ready to move forward, there are those in our community who experienced traumatic hardships and have lost loved ones during these past two years. It is our responsibility to be sensitive to those students we serve who have been most significantly affected by the pandemic.
On Thursday I met with the district administrative team, all principals, assistant principals and coordinators. We discussed the importance of supporting each and every one of our students as we approach the next phase of the pandemic. At some point, perhaps as soon as February 28, families will make decisions for their children with regards to masking. When that happens, we are committed to supporting the personal choice of each individual student and staff member, and to protecting everyone in our school community from unwelcome comments and behaviors. To that end, we will be providing resources and talking points next week as a support.
We will continue to carefully monitor case rates and attendance and evaluate any new guidance issued by the Connecticut Department of Public Health. Adjustments to our approach will be made as necessary.