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Mount Greylock District Requiring Students to Wear Face Coverings

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Thursday voted to support the superintendent's recommendation that face coverings be required indoors regardless of vaccination status in all three of the district's schools when classes begin in September.
Jake McCandless included the districtwide "mask mandate" recommendation as part of a series of steps the district is considering as it prepares to welcome students back on campus at a time when the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus is linked to rising infection rates, hospitalizations and fatalities nationwide.
"One of my mantras that I carry with me professionally and as a husband and as a father and a resident of Pittsfield and a servant here in the communities of Lanesborough and Williamstown is … 'How can I be a great neighbor to every single one of my neighbors?' " McCandless said in explaining his reasoning behind the mask requirement.
"Not just the ones I know, not just the ones I like, not just the ones I share political opinions with. How can I be a great neighbor to all of them? Because that seems to be what this would be about. If we can come together and put the right amount of energy into taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other, we are going to have a safe, healthy, really positive school year. And we're going to do that together."
McCandless said steps like requiring masks and encouraging social distance where possible will help the district achieve its two main goals: keeping the community safe and keeping students in the classroom for in-purpose learning for 180 school days in 2021-22.
For now, McCandless said, the district has the authority to require that students wear face coverings, but it does not have the power to unilaterally require it of its employees.
Unlike in the spring, when schools reopened to in-person learning and there was a state mandate in place requiring face coverings, there is no mandate out of Boston, he said. In order for the district to apply the policy to adults, it needs to reach an agreement with the Mount Greylock Educators Association.
McCandless said, the conversation with the district's "union partners" on the issue have been amicable. He said the two sides share the twin goals of keeping students and staff safe and keeping as much of the education in person as possible.
The School Committee agreed, voting unanimously to support McCandless' plan to require face coverings, pending the successful completion of negotiations with MGEA on the new workplace rule.
That vote did not include one committee member, Steven Miller, who said he had to leave Thursday's meeting in progress due to a "slight medical issue."
Prior to the vote, Miller did question the step of requiring face coverings. He said the face-covering requirement should be supported by more data.
"Last year, with things happening so quickly, we did many things that, in the end, turned out to not be that effective," Miller said. "One thing I've found a little disappointing in going to places like [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and others is that they're not really showing the studies behind their recommendations. They're making the recommendations, but they're not showing studies."
Miller said he was "not against masks or for masks" but did suggest the requirement may not be supported by the data.
"It's balancing all the different risks and rewards and trying to figure out what is the right path forward," Miller said. "More kids die from drowning than from COVID. We don't have a response of shutting down the swimming pools. We need to figure out what is the right way going forward.
"What I would love to see … is some studies, and I'm happy to help try to find them, that show that the policies we're choosing are actually beneficial, that they actually have a quantifiable known benefit to the community to balance out the cost to the students."
Miller's comments drew elicited comments from a couple of his colleagues.
"I don't imagine any of us take the death of any child lightly or think of it lightly, but I do take issue with the comparison of drowning deaths to COVID deaths because drowning isn't contagious," Curtis Elfenbein said. "Also, the number of children dying from COVID, that was with us shutting down schools for the better part of a year and shutting down a lot of society. Without those mitigating factors and the use of masks, I don't know if those numbers would have been the same."
Ursula Maloy agreed, pointing out that the evidence locally is that children did not have a problem wearing masks when schools started to reopen earlier this year, a point that was supported later by McCandless.
"As a leader, putting aside what's popular, not popular but always keeping in mind that unlike any other activity that a child engages in, a child is legally required to engage in the activity that we run for 180 days," McCandless said. "No child is mandated to go swimming. No child is mandated to ride a go-cart. … We've chosen a path to follow expert recommendations that recommend masks help.
"I described it to a parent I was speaking to today as a low-investment, high-return strategy."

Tags: COVID-19,   MGRSD,   

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Clark Art Presents Lecture on Artist Les Lalanne

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — On Sunday, Sept. 26, writer, curator, and independent art historian Adrian Dannatt will present the lecture "Bohemian Luxe: The Strange Journey of Les Lalanne from Brancusi's Woodpile to Marc Jacobs' Catwalk." 
This free talk will be presented in the Clark's auditorium and on Zoom and Facebook Live at 3 pm.
Dannatt, author of the 2018 book "Francois-Xavier & Claude Lalanne: In the Domain of Dreams," provides an overview of the artists' careers, with a special focus on their roots in the Parisian art world of the 1960s when they worked alongside other artists and designers of the time.
According to a press release, having begun their careers as penniless sculptors and painters in the poverty of postwar Paris, François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne eventually became two of the most successful stars of contemporary art and design, adored by all the world's headiest fashion and design elite. But they never forgot their earliest formative years living and working in the Impasse Ronsin, a rundown cul de sac where they were part of a vibrant community—sharing only one lavatory—with such famous artists as Constantin Brancusi, Max Ernst, Jean Tinguely, and Niki de Saint-Phalle.
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