April 14, 2024

AMESBURY — Students and staff at Amesbury High School can now be in class without a mask after the School Committee unanimously approved the superintendent’s request to waive the state mask mandate Tuesday night.

State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley has required that all public school students and staff wear protective face coverings in school buildings.

Riley has, however, allowed schools that reach a COVID-19 vaccination rate of 80% or higher to petition the state to waive the mask mandate.

Superintendent Elizabeth McAndrews told the committee last week that the high school reached the 80% threshold in November and she intended to petition the state to waive the mandate but not before the holiday season.

Riley extended the mandate to Feb. 28. McAndrews told the committee Tuesday night that her request was approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this week.

She recommended that the high school implement a mask optional policy immediately.

“The high school is pretty well vaccinated,” McAndrews said. “So, because of those high vaccination rates, coupled with the reality of the high school kids’ lives outside of here, they are not wearing masks. They are living their lives as normally as possible outside of school.”

Committee member Mel Webster pointed out that most positive COVID-19 cases in the district are the result of exposure outside school.

Another committee member, Abigail Jurist Levy, said students have been wearing masks since the school year began, helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We have hit the endemic stage, right?” McAndrews said. “So we’re going to have to learn to live with it. I think this is a step forward in that regard.”

Committee member Peter Hoyt expressed his support for McAndrews’ request.

“Given what we know in response to the data, it seems to me that our superintendent’s recommendations seem reasonable,” Hoyt said. “I can heartily support that moving forward.”

Public health consultant Diane Dardeno said people will continue to be concerned about the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

“It’s the right next move in where we are going,” Dardeno said.

McAndrews asked that the rest of the school district follow suit by going mask optional Feb. 28.

The committee voted 4-2 to draft a new mask optional policy for the district’s four other schools before Feb. 28. Jurist Levy and Kate Currie were opposed.

Spindle Tree Lane resident Eric Girard spoke before the committee Tuesday night to ask that it consider holding off on going mask optional until after Feb. 28. The school break begins Monday.

“I don’t know if dropping the masks right after we get back from a vacation after everyone has been traveling is necessarily the best thing,” Girard said.

Amesbury High School will join roughly 42 other public schools in waiving the face mask mandate before Feb. 28, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Those schools include Ashland, Hopkinton, Franklin, Norwell and Westborough high schools. Masks must still be worn on school transportation.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.