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Question now for schools: require masks or not?

Students wearing masks
Liz Lerner
Students have been wearing masks in school for parts of 3 school years, since in-school learning resumed. Soon they may be able to attend classes without them.

Cape Cod’s COVID-19 task force has endorsed the state’s decision to drop the mask mandate for schools as of Feb. 28.

The task force spokesman, state Sen. Julian Cyr, said Gov. Charlie Baker’s announcement is a reasonable step, consistent with public health data.

“Broadly, the data indicate a real decline in Omicron cases, and I think that from a statewide perspective, we're not seeing the numbers to necessitate continuing to have a mask mandate,” he said.

Cyr said some districts have told him they’re considering requiring masks for a week or two after February vacation, because cases tend to spike after a holiday. School Committees should consider the vaccination rate among children in their communities, he said.

Sean O’Brien, director of public health for Barnstable County, said the state’s decision is warranted, but school districts can make their own choices.

“Each school department is going to weigh everything as they see it, and they'll probably talk to their local boards of health as well, and make their determinations based on that,” he said.

But hang onto those masks, he said — you may want to wear them in certain situations, and you shouldn’t be afraid to do so.

Cyr said assessing individual and family risk remains important; not everyone will make the same decisions.

And he said a mask requirement that goes on too long could create resistance to masks when they’re most needed — like for a future surge.

Sandwich schools will drop masks

Sandwich public schools moved quickly to phase out its mask requirement. Students in the district will not be required to wear masks when February vacation ends at the end of the month.

The School committee voted to give students the choice this week, becoming one of the first in the region to make the decision.

Committee member Kerri Ames questioned why face coverings should be required in school, when they aren't required anywhere else in Sandwich.

"They aren't masked at the mall, they aren't masked with their friends having sleep overs and birthday parties," Ames said. "Where is that rational to keep students masked?"

It was a contentious discussion. Superintendent Pam Gould said that at-risk students will be more in danger when masks come off. And she says that the positivity rate in the school is still high.

School committees around the region will be taking up the decisions likely next week.

Here's a schedule of upcoming school committee meetings:

Monday, 2/14
5:30pm, Fall River

Tuesday, 2/15
4:00pm, Nauset
5:30pm, Falmouth
5:30pm, Provincetown
6:00pm, Nantucket

Wednesday, 2/16
5:30pm, Barnstable

Thursday, 2/17
5:15pm, Truro

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.
Sam Houghton left CAI in February, 2023, to become News Editor at the Martha's Vineyard Times.
He worked at CAI since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.
Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.