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Mask flexibility at Littleton High School takes another step forward

Littleton stock photos. Littleton High School. SUN/Julia Malakie
Littleton stock photos. Littleton High School. SUN/Julia Malakie
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LITTLETON — Mask flexibility for fully vaccinated students at Littleton High School took another step forward on Wednesday night.

The Board of Health voted 5-0 to allow a three-week mask flexibility trial at the school between Tuesday, Jan. 18, and Tuesday, Feb. 1. However, the Board of Health will review COVID-19 data in schools and the greater community on Wednesday, Jan. 12.

The trial could be postponed if the board deems necessary.

When the Board of Health reconvenes on Jan. 12, it will also make a final determination on criteria for rescinding the mask flexibility program. The Board of Health has proposed rescinding the program if COVID-19 cases double in a two-week period, while the School Committee has requested the number be changed to exceeding 10 cases in a one-week period.

Superintendent of Schools Kelly Clenchy argued that the School Committee’s figure of 10 cases in a one-week period was a more conservative number than that of the Board of Health.

Jim Garreffi, health agent for the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health, said there were nine cases of COVID-19 in Littleton Public Schools this week as of Wednesday.

Two of those cases came from the high school, two came from the Russell Street School and five came from Shaker Lane Elementary School. There were no cases at the middle school.

When the Board of Health last met, on Dec. 1, 82.6% of students at Littleton High School had been fully vaccinated.

Board of Health member Mike Zeldin pressed Clenchy and School Committee Chair Matthew Hunt on if it was the right time to launch the trial.

Clenchy and Hunt said the impetus for the trial was coming from students and feedback received on a recent survey. Mask wearing was having unintended consequences on the mental health of students.

“On our surveys (students) talked about feeling bad about themselves, not being able to see other kids smile, not being able to feel normal. They want the masks gone,” Hunt said.

Hunt also argued the mask flexibility program was an incentive to get more students participating in COVID-19 testing.

“These kids have to test, this is one of our best ways to keep COVID down in the schools,” Hunt said.

Public comment was limited, with resident George Sanders being the lone voice to speak. Sanders argued it was an inappropriate time to be lifting the mask requirement.

“We’re fortunate that a piece of cloth over our nose and mouth can offer protection to us,” Sanders said.

Sanders suggested the Board of Health reserve judgement on a decision until more information was available, especially with the new omicron coronavirus variant. He also urged more parents to join Board of Health meetings to get a clear picture on the risks COVID-19 poses.

“You have the authority to stand up and protect the children in the school, based on the information you have available right now,” Sanders said. “We have a beast on the loose.”

Clenchy said if the school had 2,500 students, he would feel differently about the situation. However, Littleton High School has about 450 students. He also said when Hopkinton started its mask flexibility trial, 58% of students chose to participate.

Before the Board of Health reconvenes on Jan. 12, the school district must produce a baseline number of COVID-19 cases among participants in the trial. Clenchy said the baseline could be established by Monday, Jan. 10.

During the meeting, the Board of Health also decided to postpone a decision on the townwide mask mandate until the Jan. 12 meeting. The townwide mask mandate will expire on Saturday, Jan. 15, if no action is taken.

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