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Cape schools diverge on whether to continue mask mandates

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Demonstrators called for an end to the school mask mandate Tuesday outside Falmouth High School before the Falmouth School Committee voted 8-1 to make masks optional starting Feb. 28.

School districts around the region are voting on local mask mandates, now that the state mandate for schools is set to end February 28th.

Update, Friday, February 18

The Monomoy school district on Thursday joined similar decisions by Barnstable, Falmouth, Bourne, Dennis-Yarmouth, and Sandwich schools to make masks optional beginning February 28, the day students return from winter break.

That date is in line with the state requirement expiring.

Today, the Mashpee school district voted unanimously to lift the mask requirement on Monday February, 28.

Provincetown and Truro schools will decide how to proceed in mid-March. That's when Fall River schools on the South Coast will also decide. Meanwhile, the Nauset district's four schools are exploring a new policy.

Update, Thursday, February 17

Many Cape Cod students and teachers will have the option of wearing masks at school when they return from winter break. Chatham, Harwich, and Truro schools meet on Thursday, with the Mashpee district voting Friday.

On Wednesday night Barnstable, the Cape's largest school district, voted unanimously to make masks optional beginning February 28. That's in line with the state requirement expiring that day.

Bourne and Dennis-Yarmouth schools also decided on Wednesday night to make masks optional effective February 28, joining similar decisions by Falmouth and Sandwich schools.

Fall River and Provincetown schools will keep masks until at least mid-March while they monitor any case spikes.

February 15

Tuesday brought a split decision across the region: Falmouth voted to end its mask requirement at the earliest date, Provincetown voted to continue masking and reconsider in mid-March, and Nauset chose to craft a new policy before replacing its current one.

Falmouth to lift mandate on February 28

Falmouth's school committee elected to lift the district's mask requirement for students and staff effective February 28th.

The school committee voted 8 to 1 Tuesday night to end the mandate after hearing from the district's pediatrician, Dr. Greg Parkinson, who said COVID-19 cases have decreased significantly.

"When the opportunity presents itself, you have to be reasonable and not just reactive because of the fear of something there isn't the data to support," Parkinson said.

Falmouth's Health Director Scott McGann said Falmouth's board of health made no recommendation regarding masks, but did have some concerns that the mask requirement would be lifted just as students return from winter vacation.

Last year, cases increased after winter break, a time when many families travel.

"I think we have to give a chance for some normalcy when it presents itself, and it appears to be presenting itself," Dr. Parkinson said, speaking in support of ending the mandate.

Committee member Andrea Thorrold suggested keeping the mask requirement until March 14th, two weeks after school vacation ends, but hers was the only vote against lifting the mask requirement at the end of February.

Before the meeting demonstrators gathered outside Falmouth High School to call for the School Committee to lift the mask mandate.

School Committee members saw the demonstration as they headed inside to vote.

Demonstrators held signs saying, “Kids Can’t Breathe” and “My Body My Choice.”

Amanda Marks, one of the organizers, said about 40 people participated.

"I think collectively the main reason is health and also social and emotional well-being of our children," Marks said, explaining why she felt the mandate should end. "Just not being able to see faces."

She also pointed out that her kindergarten-aged daughter has asthma, which makes wearing a mask uncomfortable.

Masks will still be required on Falmouth school buses, in school health offices, and for anyone returning to school on the sixth day after a COVID diagnosis.

Provincetown to stay the course a while longer

Provincetown is keeping masks until at least March 16th, when the district will consider the issue again.

At a meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Suzanne Scallion said the Provincetown School Committee wants to monitor any spike in cases after February vacation before making the decision.

Nauset to create a policy allowing flexibility across its schools

Meanwhile, the School Committee of the Nauset Regional School District decided to write a new policy before dropping the old.

Superintendent Brooke Clenchy said it will be drafted by the district’s lawyer and allow separate risk assessments for each of the Nauset towns: Brewster, Eastham, Orleans and Wellfleet.

The result, Clenchy said, would designate the superintendent to work in collaboration with the local health authority and school district nurse to make individual assessments for each of the communities.

Clenchy said their legal counsel has advised them that town mask mandates for municipal buildings include the schools.

She says if the schools want to differ from the Board of Health, they will have to apply for a waiver.

"I don't think it's in anyone's best interest, from my perspective, to continue with the mask mandate policy that you currently have," Clenchy told the committee. "I support the legal counsel suggestion today that you rescind the current policy and have our legal counsel create a new policy to come in behind that."