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Masks optional in effect at K-12 public schools

School Committee logo'This is a huge change.'

         -- Liz Exton

Required for 2- through 5-year-olds in preschool, day care

UPDATED March 18: Mask-wearing at Arlington Public Schools will be optional starting Monday, March 7, in grades K through 12.

Masks still will be required for 2- through 5-year-olds in preschool and day care in the district, though this issue will be revisited at least monthly, said Superintendent Elizabeth Homan.

She noted that families of those youngsters may apply for a “special mask exemption.” And masks may be doffed occasionally and temporarily when this is deemed to be “instructionally appropriate and beneficial,” such as during brief lessons involving phonics and speech.

Anyone of any age who chooses to still mask will be allowed to do so; moreover, on-campus employees have been trained to explain that respect is expected for individual choices, she said.

“It’s an important transition into the next phase,” Homan said.

Masks required on buses, vans this month

Masks will still be required on school buses and vans at least through March 31. And masks still must be worn by anyone in any health office on campus, as well as by asymptomatic individuals who have tested positive but are on campus and participating in the “test-to-return” program.

The School Committee’s vote to support Homan’s proposal was unanimous. “This is a huge change,” said committee member Liz Exton. Referring to Homan, she said, “You’ve shared a lot of clear data and have been incredibly thoughtful.”

The district will continue long-established pandemic mitigation measures including weekly anonymous on-campus pooled testing, weekly at-home individual testing, in-school and at-home testing of those who are symptomatic, regular replacement of MERV-13 air filters on campus and use of standalone HEPA filtration in classrooms.

The district retains the authority to:

  • “flexibly re-impose” masking if needed in the future;
  •  repeat Covid-19 tests if need be;
  • close a classroom, multiple classrooms or an entire campus in case of an outbreak or if ventilation systems are compromised; and
  • bring back “podding” at lunchtime, meaning that students would again have to sit with only other members of their own classes or cohorts when eating.
Bases for recommendation

Homan said her recommendation – similar to what she presented in draft form last month – was informed by policy decisions in recent days from the Arlington Board of Health, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the federal Centers for Disease Control. The CDC’s new risk calculation methodology categorizes Middlesex County as having a low level of Covid-19 infection, she said.

And it’s based on the district’s own metrics. The vaccination rate of on-campus staff is 97.9 percent. Student vaccination rate by campus, exclusive of preschool and daycare, ranges from 85 percent to 94 percent. Some 70 percent participate in pooled testing, 80 percent in home testing.

 Moreover, the infection rate within the district has been generally falling for the past two months. For example, cases as reported each Friday were high during the surge of the Omicron variant, including:

Jan. 7: 311; and

Jan. 14: 268.

More recently they have been as follows:

Feb. 11: 30;

Feb. 18: 15;

Feb. 25: 13; and

Today: 18.

See the agenda documents for this issue >> 

Committee approves report on literacy program

The committee voted, 7-0, to approve a report by Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. about upcoming enhancements to literacy instruction in grades K through 5. Training of principals and literacy coaches has already begun, and full implementation is expected by autumn 2023. 

Two books were cited: Equity by Design by Mirko Chardin and Katie Novak, and Cultivating Genius by Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, including a quote from the latter: “Reading and writing are transformative acts that improve self and society.”

Details are contained in documents available online, such as a video on the “reading rope” concept that illustrates the “many strands that are woven into reading” including phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

See the ACMi video of the March 3 School Committee meeting:

In other business
  • The board plans to soon start meeting in person again for the first time in two years. Beginning either March 17 or March 31, meetings will be “hybrid,” meaning that they will still be viewable over Zoom, as they have been since spring 2020. The date will depend on staffing and technology concerns.
  • The meeting opened with a public hearing on the budget. No one commented. The matter is set for a vote at the next scheduled meeting, 6:30 p.m. Thursday March 17.
  • The opening of the STEAM wing at Arlington High School on Monday Feb. 28 as scheduled was extremely successful, according to committee member Jeff Thielman, who called it “very, very exciting.” Read a news summary here >> 
  • The final draft of the calendar of instruction for the upcoming 2022-23 school year was approved unanimously. Read the documents >>  
  • The committee unanimously approved the job description for a new position, assistant superintendent for school services. This is a job title commonly found in many other districts, particularly those with 6,000 students or more.
  • The committee voted 7-0 to approve the consent agenda.

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