May 26—METHUEN — With just 43% of the city vaccinated, the School Committee this week voted against relaxing a strict travel policy that requires 10-day quarantines for people who return to the city after being out of state for an extended period of time.
The proposal to rescind the travel policy was put forward by School Committee member Ryan DiZoglio, who said that as more people get vaccinated and as the COVID-19 infection rate continues to drop, it was time to relax the school's guidelines and bring them more in line with state rules.
"I have been approached by people who have asked me to rescind this because our guidelines are stricter than the state's," he said. "With students getting vaccinated, and the city being in yellow, my biggest concern is that if someone has to quarantine they might miss senior events or graduation."
For most of the pandemic, the city was in the "red" zone — meaning it had among the highest rates of infection in the state. More recently, it dropped to "yellow," one level below "red" but still not in the "green" zone, which indicates the lowest level of infection.
But the rest of the committee rejected DiZoglio's proposal to rescind the travel guidelines for students and staff, even though his proposal was supported by Superintendent Brandi Kwong. The guidelines do not apply to people who have already been vaccinated.
The committee voted 6-1 against DiZoglio's proposal to rescind the policy for staff. His second proposal — to rescind the policy for students as well — didn't even make it to a vote as it failed for lack of a "second."
Mayor Neil Perry, who serves as chairman of the committee, challenged DiZoglio's assumptions about how the disease is less of a threat in Methuen.
"I'd like to correct a couple things," Perry said to DiZoglio. "Your numbers are wrong. The city is only 43% vaccinated. The state is 50% vaccinated. There's a ways to go."
Committee member Jana Zanni-Pesce said now was not the time to backtrack on travel restrictions.
"I get the pressure to ease up," she said. "But there are only a few weeks of school left. I understand it's an inconvenience. But there's also the COVID variant we don't know about. It's too early. We need to see how everything goes before we throw it out the window."
Committee member Karen Hallbauer noted that even though vaccinations were recently made available to students 16 and over at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, only a fraction of those eligible took advantage of the clinic.
"I'm very disappointed and confused as to why the numbers were so low," she said, noting that only 100 eligible seniors, juniors and some sophomores got vaccinated. "Maybe some already got it, or couldn't make it on that one day. It was under 100 people and there are 500 students in the senior class alone. The majority of our students at the high school have not been vaccinated although a majority of the staff and faculty have been vaccinated."
She added, "It was a head-scratcher, but that's why all of us voted to keep the travel policy in place. It's to try to make our schools safe."
Committee member Jessica MacLeod said she was also concerned about younger students as well.
"A preponderance of our community has chosen not to get vaccinated," she said. "I am concerned, especially in our schools, when many of our students are still too young to be vaccinated."
Children 12 and over are now eligible to get vaccinated but anyone younger than that is not.