Mask mandate may be lifted on Cape Ann

·3 min read

May 19—Students of Gloucester Public Schools may not need to wear masks when outdoors, even if distance cannot be maintained.

Schools across the state haves been instructed by Gov. Charlie Baker that students are now allowed to not wear masks when at recess, physical education, youth sports, and outdoor learning environments. Adults must continue to wear masks outdoors if distancing cannot be maintained and adults and students must continue to wear masks indoors.

As the state is relying on each municipality to decide what is best for their community, Cape Ann's school administrators are finalizing details of what they will do.

In the process

Gloucester's School Committee held an emergency meeting Tuesday at to vote to instruct the administration to align academic, athletic, and all other school functions with the current state guidance — not the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association guidance. Around the same time, the MIAA aligned its mask rules with the state's.

In Rockport, "The School Committee meets Wednesday night (May 19) on the topic and Rockport Board of Health (will meet) on Thursday night (May 20) to discuss that new information and make any potential changes," Superintendent Rob Liebow wrote in an email to the Times.

The Manchester Essex Regional School Committee was to discuss the recently rescinded mask regulation at its meeting Tuesday evening.

The Gloucester School Committee also voted to empower the superintendent to continue to adjust the implementation of mask rules as the recommendations from the state government continue to evolve and change. Furthermore, the committee's motion empowered the superintendent to — without prior notice to the School Committee — add restrictions and then call for the committee to ratify them at its next meeting.

In addition to lifting the mask mandate for children who are outside, Baker has also announced that given the low-likelihood of surface transmission of COVID-19, schools no longer have to prevent the sharing of objects between students. This includes classroom materials, items for physical education and art supplies. Shared objects no longer have to be cleaned or disinfected between use.

Decisions to be made

As of Tuesday, there were no active cases of COVID-19 within the Gloucester school district. Across the city, there are currently 13 active cases of the virus.

With regulations loosening, Gloucester's Public Health Director Karin Carroll feels "comfortable with where we are at."

"Especially given our local data and given the time of year," she said. "If we were in December and heading into flu season, that is a different equation. But I think given where we are at and that there is very little transmission occurring and there has never been a lot of transmission outside for youth, I think it is a good thing."

She noted that wearing a mask while playing outdoor sports such as field hockey is "unnecessary and extremely uncomfortable."

As school leaders discussed lifting the mask mandate outside of schools, the biggest concern was the possibility teachers weren't being given enough time to adjust to a new normal.

School Committee member Samantha Watson said that with this news, teachers were going to need to figure out where to store masks when children go outside.

"I wouldn't want that responsibility on the educators in addition to everything else we are asking them to do," Watson said.

"We are basing the decision off of snapshot of information we have today right now," said Jeff Parco, the school district's nurse leader. "If this changes, we may make adjustments."

"Just remember that this is a fluid situation," he added. "We will respond effectively and quickly."

Superintendent Ben Lummis will send out an announcement with details of the Gloucester-specific mask mandate later this month.

Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.

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