Sep. 1—Children in Andover, North Andover and Methuen returned to class Wednesday, donning masks and backpacks for the first day of the 2021-22 school year.
Per the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, all public school students in grades kindergarten through 12 and staff must wear masks through at least Oct. 1. The mandate only applies indoors and to children age 5 and older.
Several communities, including North Andover, have devised policies on how masks will be worn in school buildings — with an exception for break times when students are eating, for example.
"To me, it comes down to erring on the side of caution," said North Andover School Committee member Holly Vietzke-Lynch shortly before students returned to class.
In order to ease up on mask restrictions after Oct. 1, schools must have achieved an 80% vaccination rate by that date, according to DESE.
It is a federal mandate that masks must be worn on school buses.
In Methuen, lunch was eaten in various locations depending on the school. In the grammar schools, some students will eat lunch in the cafeteria and others in their classrooms, Superintendent Brandi Kwong said. Other schools planned to utilize the media centers as lunchrooms to maximize spacing. Schools that have outdoor tents and used them last year planned to use them again for lunch. The high school has four eating spaces.
The Methuen School Committee issued a mask policy at its meeting Aug. 30, with members listening to last-minute pleas from parents on both sides of the debate.
"When parents say, 'my children, my choice,' I agree that it's your choice — under your roof," said Methuen School Committee member Karen L. Hallbauer. "My husband hates red lights. If I'm in the car with him and we hit a red light, I hear about it. He doesn't like to stop at a red light but he does it for public safety. All of us have heard the arguments for and against, and I will always protect children."
According to Methuen's mask policy, administrators are authorized to enforce it by way of out-of-school suspension for students and what the district calls "progressive discipline" for employees, considering the facts of each situation.
Haverhill students went back to class Tuesday after a year of learning remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students in many cities go back to school next week after the Labor Day holiday.