School Committee discusses removing mask mandate


CJ Bourbeau

Students wear their masks while working in the hall on Friday, Nov. 12.

Marygrace Sarrasin, Assistant News Editor

After months of COVID-19 restrictions, the end may be in sight. 

Recently, the Northborough-Southborough school district was granted approval from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to lift the mask mandate at Algonquin. However, the Regional School Committee (RSC) has not made a final decision on the matter yet. 

Currently, the state plans on lifting the mask mandate in Massachusetts public schools on Jan. 15, 2022, but districts have the ability to apply for an early mask mandate removal if more than 80% of students and staff are vaccinated. Algonquin, along with other local schools including Hopkinton High School and Westborough High School, applied and has been granted a waiver of approval to remove the mandate. 

According to the District Dashboard, as of Nov. 17, 88.35% of Algonquin’s students are vaccinated. Along with the 80% vaccination requirement, the district hopes to show a steady or decreasing number of cases, and a low-to-moderate transmission rate before removing masks. However, District Wellness Coordinator Mary Ellen Duggan is concerned that obtaining this transmission rate is nearly impossible, and she believes that the district may be re-evaluating these guidelines in order to remove masks. 

“It is not like we never want to remove masks, but we want to do it safely so we need to have the criteria be met,” Duggan said. “Each School Committee meeting, we do discuss this, and it is ultimately their decision to [remove] the mask policy. That is what needs to happen in order to remove masks at the high school.” 

As the RSC evaluates data to make the right decision for Algonquin, Superintendent Gregory Martineau pays close attention to the mask-removal process while also keeping students in mind.

“I think that students have done a great job taking advantage of the vaccination,” Martineau said. “Our vaccination rates are above the threshold of 80%. My number-one priority is to make sure that in-person learning takes place.” 

District physician Safdar Medina has been studying Algonquin’s COVID-19 rates, and he works to keep the high school a safe environment for students and faculty. 

“Right now, Jan. 15 is when the state says they will lift the mask mandate,” Medina said. “[Our district] has a waiver [of approval] so we could potentially do it earlier, but we still want to make sure that any decision that is made is made by looking at all the possible metrics and making sure we are in a place where it is safe to remove masks.”

After masks are removed, COVID-19 restrictions will mostly be over, but this does not mean they will never return. Duggan explains the circumstances under which a mask mandate would be reinstated. 

“If we had an outbreak of cases and it becomes unmanageable for the nurses; we need to look at the school impact,” Duggan said. “We need to look at the absentee rate, the teachers needing substitutes and having the ability to have substitutes and nurses doing contact tracing. There are a lot of factors for deciding when we would need to [reinstate the mask policy].” 

Local middle and elementary schools follow the same guidelines and requirements that Algonquin does. As of Nov. 17, 53.88% of Melican Middle School students are vaccinated, and 62.44% of Trottier Middle School students are vaccinated. Until these local schools meet the previously stated requirements, masks will remain in place.

“In grades seven through 12 we are seeing fewer COVID-19 cases because we have a high vaccination rate in that age group,” Martineau said. “Most of the COVID-19 cases are seen  in grade six and of unvaccinated students, which makes sense.” 

During the next RSC meeting on Dec. 15, School Committee members will revisit the mask mandate discussion. Until a final decision is made, masks will remain in place at Algonquin. 

The RSC’s decision does not affect school bus policies. As the CDC states, all public transportation (buses, trains, planes, etc.), require face coverings. Until this mandate is lifted, students must continue to wear masks on school buses. 

Duggan, Medina and Martineau all have ideas of hopeful futures for Algonquin and plan on keeping it a safe, in-person learning environment for students and staff.

“I think that there will be continued conversations and recommendations based on the data, but I think there is an important discussion to be had by the school committee around whether to continue the masking or not,” Martineau said. 


Do you think the mask mandate should be lifted at ARHS?


Sorry, there was an error loading this poll.