Yale Daily News

For the first time since March 2020, New Haven Public Schools students walked into school on Monday without a mask.

Students were required to wear masks for all of last school year, but the district now says public health conditions allow for a change in masking policy. At a press conference last week with New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, outgoing superintendent Iline Tracey announced the change. The decision comes after the district initially kept its mask mandate in mid-March when Gov. Ned Lamont dropped the statewide mask mandate.

“We have a mask-friendly situation,” Tracey said last week. “If students or their parents want them to wear masks they’re welcome to wear them; however, students will no longer be required to wear a mask.” 

According to New Haven Public Schools Spokesperson Justin Harmon, all summer school classes and activities adopted the same policy and the district did not see an increase in cases. 

“Health department and district officials are still closely monitoring COVID-19 cases in the district, but for many students they’re starting to feel like school from pre-2020,” Harmon said. 

If students or staff test positive for COVID-19, they will be told to remain at home for at least five days or until they are asymptomatic, according to Harmon. Upon their return to school, they will have to wear masks for five days. Students will complete their work online during their isolation period. 

COVID-19 test kits will be available at New Haven schools, and if students or staff are exposed to the virus they will be asked to wear masks until they test negative once, Harmon added. 

Tracey announces retirement

When New Haven students returned to school on Monday, they did so under a cloud of administrative uncertainty after Superintendent Iline Tracey announced that she will retire at the end of the school year. 

Tracey, who has worked in New Haven Public Schools for 38 years, has led the district of 19,000 students during some of its most unpredictable years.

“I accepted the challenge prior to a pandemic that was unprecedented for our times. Like a captain, I navigated the ship through rough waters and landed it,” Tracey wrote in her three-page retirement notice to the Board of Education. “Like with many things in life, people tend to quickly forget the struggles and trials and behave like nothing positive has happened. But, only those who waded through the waters will remember.” 

Tracey’s tenure began following instability after the departure of former Superintendent Carol Birks. Birks entered a settlement with the district to leave her job before her contract expired due to staff, student and parent protests over budget and teaching issues.

Soon into Tracey’s tenure, she was presented with the task of transitioning in-person instruction to a remote model.

Tracey also highlighted a set of 28 accomplishments that she said her administration has achieved during her tenure. 

These achievements include reducing the budget deficit three years in a row, providing 40,000 computers and tablets to students, locating and supporting 500 homeless students and families through the Attend, Connect, Engage campaign where the district canvassed to find families in difficult situations and overhauling the district’s curriculum and strategic plan.

But even as normalcy has slowly returned to the district, with schools gradually reopening in 2021 and the mask mandate ending, controversies remain. In recent months, the district has come under fire after last year’s reading and math test scores revealed that more students have fallen below grade level than in prior years. In 2019, 34 percent of third through eighth graders were at grade level for ELA and 22.5 percent were for math. In 2022, only 23 percent were on level for ELA and 12 percent were for math.

In her retirement letter, Tracey rejected arguments from members of the Boards of Alders and Education that the newest test scores were a crisis.

“Dr. Tracey has led New Haven Public Schools through one of the most challenging periods in our city’s and nation’s history and worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to support our students, parents and teachers,” Elicker told the News. “It is a critical time for our students and educators, as they prepare to start the new school year off strong and begin the challenging task of making up for the recent learning loss we’ve experienced.”

The Board of Education has not announced formal plans for a superintendent search but has indicated that they will begin the process soon. 

Dave Cruz Bustamante, Board of Education member and Cross School student, expressed concerns about the district’s future. 

“I am worried about steadiness regarding upper leadership,” said Cruz-Bustamente. “I hope that we find someone who will be willing to truly transform our schools and tackle issues head-on with the solutions that community organizers, students, and teachers propose.”

The New Haven public school system has 19,000 students. 

Yash Roy covered City Hall and State Politics for the News. He also served as a Production & Design editor, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion chair for the News. Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, he is a '25 in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs.