New Haven Public Schools board votes to continue mask mandate
Board members unanimously assented to continuing to require masks for students and staff.
Yale Daily News
Despite Connecticut’s termination of its mask mandate for school and childcare facilities, New Haven Public Schools will continue to require masks indefinitely.
The Board of Education unanimously voted to continue the mandate at its Monday evening meeting. Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Feb. 7 that the state would scrap its mask mandate for schools and childcare facilities effective Feb. 28. At the time, Lamont said that decisions about enforcing masks would be made by local leaders and boards of education. On Friday, Mayor Justin Elicker announced that he intends to keep a citywide mask mandate for municipal buildings and schools. Notably, if the Board of Education had voted against mask requirements in schools, Elicker’s ruling would have superseded their motion.
Before deliberations surrounding the vote, Health Director Maritza Bond presented a pandemic update to the members and shared the health department’s recommendation.
“Our recommendation is that we continue the mask mandate until the unforeseeable future due to the low vaccination rates within our adolescents compared to surrounding towns, significant percent of high risk students in the district at 40 percent and masks have been shown to be an effective way to prevent another surge,” Bond said.
Currently, 46 percent of students ages five to 17 have received their first dose of the vaccine, and 38 percent have received their second dose. New Haven’s vaccination rates are similar to West Haven’s, but slightly lower than Hamden’s and North Haven’s.
Dori Pagé Antonetti, an attorney for Shipman & Goodwin LLP who helps school districts through the legal aspects of COVID-19 decisions, briefed board members on the different sources of authority for dictating mask mandates. Antonetti noted that while the Connecticut Department of Education and Department of Public Health have shifted authority toward local and municipal leaders, the departments can still reinstate a statewide mask mandate until June 30. At least until April 15, municipalities, such as New Haven, can impose mask requirements in indoor settings.
During the discussion, Iline Tracey, superintendent of NHPS, asked whether board members wished to establish a definite date, such as April 15, for when the school district’s mask mandate would end.
“My suggestion is that we don’t try to restrict ourselves with any particular time limit,” Elicker said. “I think that it’s important for us to follow the guidance of our health department and local health professionals as we make this decision, and that is what I plan on doing regarding my mask mandate in schools and municipal buildings.”
Anthony Fiore and Ma’Shai Roman, student representatives on the Board of Education, both agreed with the adult members to keep the school mask mandate. They cited the vaccination data that Bond shared, the fact that students are returning to schools after a one-week break and overall student opinion.
“When there were rumors that we weren’t going to have mask mandates in schools, it was my experience that students were almost afraid not to have [the mask mandate],” Fiore said. “They almost didn’t feel safe, especially at this time.”
Fiore did, however, hope to see an adjustment in mask policy as the temperatures begin to rise as students would be able to spend more time outside.
Nevertheless, some community members said they wished that the board would begin to lift some of NHPS’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Kathy Gonzalez, a parent with a five-year-old student who attends Nathan Hale School, pointed toward social and developmental concerns with the mask mandate. She also wished that NHPS would allow more visitors to enter its schools, she said.
Later, board member Matt Wilcox acknowledged her concerns, stating that he did not want to diminish the impact that the mask mandate has on socialization for young kids and the toll it takes on teachers who are required to enforce mask-wearing.
The New Haven Board of Education was not isolated in its decision. On Monday, the Hamden school board voted five to one to extend its mask mandate as well. Other notable school districts in Hartford and Waterbury intend to continue mask requirements for the time being. Governor Lamont estimates that 85 to 90 percent of Connecticut school districts plan on getting rid of the mask mandate.
Board members acknowledged on multiple occasions that they could reassess whether they thought that the mask mandate should continue at future meetings.
The New Haven Board of Education typically meets biweekly on Mondays.