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Mount Greylock School District Tightens Mask Policy

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — When Williamstown Elementary School and Lanesborough Elementary School throw open their doors to pupils next month, they will have some new rules on face coverings.
 
The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Thursday updated the policy the district put in place last summer to clarify what constitutes an acceptable face mask and when those masks must be worn.
 
"As we are preparing to welcome students back at the elementary level on April 5, and as we see numbers creep up in the Berkshires relative to COVID positivity, we, working together collaboratively with the union through our [Joint Labor Management Committee] were looking at several layers of how we could be more protective," Superintendent Jason McCandless told the committee. "One of the areas that was suggested to us was to revisit face coverings."
 
The updated policy retains language requiring students at the district's three schools to wear face coverings while on school grounds or school transportation regardless of whether social distancing is maintained.
 
But after Thursday's 7-0 vote, the face coverings worn "must be either multiple-layer fabric masks, including N-95 and/or KN-95 masks, with a tight weave, or paper surgical masks."
 
The prior policy "strongly encouraged" such masks but allowed for alternative face coverings that gained popularity in the spring and summer of last year.
 
The updated policy specifies that "bandanas, neck gaiters and buffs, and masks with exhalation valves" are "not acceptable" in the district.
 
The district's policy also was updated to remove two exceptions to the mandatory mask requirement. Students no longer will be able to shed masks while outside (except during specified mask breaks) or during physical education classes.
 
The policy allows for students to seek exemptions to the mask mandate if they have medical, behavioral or other challenges. Those exemptions need to be approved by the building principal in consultation with the school nurse or local Board of Health.
 
School Committee member Curtis Elfenbein raised concerns about language in the existing policy that Elfenbein feared might allow families to request exemptions for less specified reasons.
 
"Folks are not looking for outlandish exceptions in my five months here," McCandless said.
 
Throughout the first seven months of the school year, the district has been able toggle back and forth between fully remote learning and a "hybrid" model of remote learning coupled with half-time in-person instruction depending on the public health metrics.
 
That comes to an end on April 5.
 
That is when this month's edict from the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education goes into effect.
 
After months of Baker Administration officials pressuring school districts to return to full in-person instruction, Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley got the board to vote, 9-3, to order local districts to take that step, starting with K-5 classrooms on April 5.
 
"As much as that's a day we have some concerns over and working hard to make real in a way that's safe, a core part of every educator's approach to this is one of excitement," McCandless said. "We are welcoming back the very reasons all of us do what we do."
 
Although the state mandate is for K-5, the Mount Greylock district's two PreK-6 elementary schools will be open to all grades for in-person instruction starting on April 5. The state board's decision continues to require schools to provide a remote option for families who choose not to send their children for in-person instruction.
 
McCandless said the state has not announced when it will require high schools to go fully in person, but his vision is to fully open Mount Greylock Regional School to students on or close to April 28, the date the commissioner specified for full in-person instruction for middle schools.
 
"We do continue preparations for this return to full in-person school," he said. "We're doing so by providing N-95 masks to any educators who want or need this level of protection. We continue to work together and be as communicative and supportive as possible for as many of our educators to get vaccinated as is possible. … We continue to prepare classrooms and school public spaces. We are providing very specific plans for eating as safely as possible, traveling through hallways, etc., once we're all back together. And part of our lunch plan is including the use of tents at both of our elementary schools.
 
"We do continue to ask and borderline beg everyone in our communities to remember that so much of our ability to come back to school in safe ways depends on choices we make every minute of every day. We have the power to protect one another. We have the power to keep school in person."

Tags: COVID-19,   MGRSD,   


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Hasty Wants Williamstown to Do the 'Hard Right'

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Forget forsythias.
 
The real harbinger of spring in small towns is the political lawn sign.
 
And this spring, Wade Hasty livened up Williamstown's curbsides with distinctive bright yellow and green signs carrying a simple message, "Electorate leads the way," and bordered by images of flowers.
 
"I'm anti-partisan," Hasty said in explaining his choice in color scheme. "At this time in the American social climate, a large grouping are hyper-partisan. I chose two colors that represent the two largest third-party organizations. The mayflower outlines the sign as it is the Massachusetts state flower. I'm a 'transplant,' and I thought, 'how fitting.' "
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