Filippelli: District leaning toward optional masking

Filippelli: District leaning toward optional masking

LINCOLN – The question over whether to require masks in school has been a hot topic this summer. Bumper stickers and Facebook groups have proliferated on both sides of the issue.

Supt. Larry Filippelli said on Monday that the district is leaning toward masks being optional when students return.

Lincoln School Committee Chairman Joseph Goho told The Breeze that the Lincoln School Department is still in the “information-gathering phase” regarding masks.

“As you know, the medical health professionals at the CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health are not requiring masks at this time, and instead are ‘strongly recommending’ them. The governor reiterated that position today (Monday) in the media,” Goho said.

The most recent guidance from the RIDOH states that though masks are no longer required in R.I., federal law still requires face-coverings to be worn in certain settings.

“A business establishment, school, camp, health care setting, organization, or other entity can create its own masking policies and require you to wear a mask whether or not you’re fully vaccinated,” RIDOH guidance states.

The RIDOH masking guidance states that the CDC recommends that schools and other settings focused on children continue to follow masking guidelines.

“This is primarily because most children age 12-15 are not yet fully vaccinated and children younger than age 12 cannot yet be vaccinated. These groups are still at risk for getting and transmitting COVID-19 to others, including those who may be more vulnerable to severe disease,” it reads.

The CDC updated its masking guidelines on Tuesday afternoon, strongly recommending masks for most people, even those who are vaccinated, in public indoor spaces. The agency also recommended universal masking for teachers, staff, students and school visitors.

Filippelli said he will reconvene the district’s COVID-19 re-entry task force in August, at which point the topic will be discussed further. Lincoln’s re-entry committee will be voting on a new mask policy for the district on Aug. 23, he said.

For now, “we are leaning toward making mask-wearing optional,” he told The Breeze on Monday before the updated CDC recommendation.

The issue, he said, is that both the CDC and RIDOH are “recommending” wearing masks.

“Neither entity has taken the plunge to require mask wearing in schools. This said, I will be having a re-entry task force meeting in early August and will be consulting the governor’s office, RIDOH and data on the delta variant before I make any recommendations to my committee,” he said.

Filippelli said it’s his belief that superintendents and school committees, which are not made up of health professionals, should not “be the arbiters to determine who is vaccinated and who is not.”

He said he anticipates further guidance over the next few weeks as school departments and other organizations press the state for “more definitive guidance” rather than just recommendations that “place the onus for creating masking policies solely on superintendents and school committees rather than coming from the state entities responsible for student health and safety.”

Streaming services on hold

The most recent School Committee meeting on July 19 was held in-person despite an executive order in effect at the time requiring meetings to be streamed virtually for the public.

Executive Order 21-72, which mandated that public bodies provide alternative means of access to meetings during the pandemic, expired a week later on July 24.

Filippelli said the School Department is investigating the equipment needed, as well as licensing and software, to create a live-streaming form of meeting going forward.

He added that none of these items have been budgeted for.

“We are also looking at what the town does and who they use to determine if we can piggyback on that contract,” he said.

Over the course of the pandemic, the town has outsourced its IT services to outside vendors, primarily Focus IT.

Goho said the district is exploring its options and that the company the district was using to transmit meetings before the pandemic ran into difficulty and could not provide the service any longer.

“Then, the pandemic hit and everything was recorded via Zoom,” he said. “The tech department and superintendent are in the process of determining next steps.”

Comments

I agree with this decision. Unless the CDC and RIDOH guidances suggest otherwise, masking should remain optional.

I do not envy the position of the leaders of the School Department and School Committee, especially in the face of renewed fears surrounding variants of COVID-19.