School committee members voted Feb. 28 to update the district’s masking policy to parental discretion. The revision of the current masking policy comes after Governor McKee’s announcement …
School committee members voted Feb. 28 to update the district’s masking policy to parental discretion. The revision of the current masking policy comes after Governor McKee’s announcement to lift the mask mandate on March 4 and let school districts decide how they would like to proceed.
“Our schools have been at the front line in the battle against Covid-19,” said Jeannine Nota-Masse, Superintendent of Cranston Public Schools, during Monday night’s meeting. “What we must turn our attention to now is mitigating the social and emotional trauma that the virus has left in its wake.”
School Committee Chair Daniel Wall noted that Rhode Island’s vaccination rate is among the highest in the nation. CPS’s Covid transmission rate is also very low – with only 19 cases out of 10,000 students and 1,300 staff in the two weeks, as noted by Nota-Masse. With children ages five and above eligible for the vaccine, there is now greater means of protection for younger age groups.
A majority of the 20 parents and students who spoke favored parental discretion and cited social and emotional effects of masking as well as that it is difficult to breathe when wearing.
“I don’t want to wear a mask. I want to see my friend’s smile,” said Kelly Bacon’s seven-yearold
son Jackson who attends Woodridge Elementary School educators and had younger children mentioned that the masks do not help with speech development and pronunciation.
"All of them [grandson and friends] are waiting to burn their masks," said Anne Rich, whose grandson attends Western Hills.
Rich said her grandson and friends play together every day after school and on the weekends without masks, with none of them getting sick.
"If people want to mask their children, then that's their prerogative," said Colette Wierzibick, whose seventh grader attends Western Hills Middle School.
Nota-Masse said the district will ask parents to notify them through Aspen if they would like their children to continue wearing masks in school. That way they have a listing and can monitor the situation.
Committee member Sara Tindall-Woodman called for an amendment to the policy stating that publicly shaming or bullying any individual due to face covering behaviors would not be tolerated in any way and result in disciplinary action.
While they were the minority voices in the meeting, a handful of individuals asked for the committee to keep the masking policy.
"The only constant in this pandemic is change," said Tindall-Woodman, noting that students have been shifting between virtual, hybrid and in-person learning settings.
She said Cranston is the fifth highest town in Covid rates, behind schools such as Johnston, Pawtucket and Central Falls. Additionally, some Cranston schools' vaccination rates fall around 20 percent. Tindall-Woodman put forth an amendment asking for the mask optional policy to begin on April 1, saying the unmasking would be staggered and start with those for whom mask wearing impedes on their speech.
She introduced another amendment that would include a statement on the current masking policy saying that CPS strongly recommends people entering CPS buildings to either be vaccinated or wear a mask. Both amendments did not pass.
Maura Kitterick from Cranston East became emotional when telling the committee she didn't plan to speak on the masking policy, but after hearing other community members speak, felt it was important.
"I was there when teachers told us one of our teachers died in complications to Covid," said Kitterick.
"I don't want to see something like this again."
Kitterick referenced the passing of Cranston East teacher and volleyball coach Meaghan McGonagle in December of 2021.
After a final vote, CPS's mask-optional policy will begin after March 4.
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