Back in August, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education convened to discuss the status of mask-wearing as our public schools returned to in-person learning. Their decision to require masks for public school students aged five and older as well as staff presently remains, but the possibility to lift this mandate depends on a decision that soon approaches. Longmeadow High School Superintendent Dr. Marty O’Shea notes that “it was a very hot issue in the summer,” and “most of us thought when we left school in June that we wouldn’t have to worry about masks.” Ronald Lin, President of the Class of 2023, explains that for him and his fellow class officers, “the mask mandate has brought us closer to being able to arrange events and activities, such as dances.”
Regarding LHS students’ feelings on the mask mandate, Lin believes that “most are neutral, but there are definitely more pro-maskers than anti-maskers. I haven’t met anybody who has openly been anti-mask, and I’m happy about that.”
From the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE’s) policy on vaccination rate threshold, it states that “as of October 15, 2021, if a school demonstrates a vaccination rate of 80 percent or more of all students and staff…vaccinated individuals would no longer be subject to the mask requirement.” This is something that many students and staff are hopeful of, and the verdict will depend heavily on the health and educational officials of the Town of Longmeadow.
While many feel optimistic that the mandate will end, LHS nurses, Ms. Sara Jasak and Ms. Mary Walsh (BSN, RN) are a bit skeptical. “People are definitely not wearing their masks correctly,” says Jasak. “That’s why admin has stepped up and said that if you aren’t wearing it, you’ll get detention.” Walsh adds that “I don’t think we are at a place where the school committee could decide because of the vaccination rate they want us to be at.”
Since mask-wearing was mandated, Dr. O’Shea says that “I never wanted to substitute my judgment for the judgment of medical professionals,” and “we spent a long time gathering the best information that we could from local public health experts.” Dr. O’Shea strongly respects and recognizes the importance of consulting the Longmeadow Board of Health as well as following nationwide updates from the Center for Disease Control (CDC.)
The Longmeadow Board of Health, via their website, is responsible for “addressing the health concerns of town residents,” and “administering state laws;” duties necessary to keep the town in its best shape regarding COVID-19.
The department’s director, Mr. Finn McCool, is at the forefront of these efforts. Regarding the DESE’s policy on vaccination rate threshold, McCool says that “there has been opposition on both sides of the masking mandate but the board will continue to do what they believe is in the best interests for the health and safety of its residents.”
In addition to the Longmeadow Board of Health’s input on this decision, Dr. O’Shea notes that “there’s also the part of the decision that’s informed by education and operational concerns.” As for the opinions of the faculty and staff of the high school, he says “our faculty has reflected the wider population on this, and I think there’s a range of opinions,” but “the difference is how it plays out in a school setting, and why it matters in a school setting is very different from why it matters in other public spaces.” He also brings up that “educationally, there are many many concerns,” and that “the faculty realizes that our first priority is the safety of our schools.”