LITTLETON — The Board of Health recently voted to approve a mask flexibility trial at Littleton High School, with a vote for a blanket waiver for the rest of Littleton Public Schools scheduled for Wednesday.
At its Jan. 31 meeting, the Board of Health authorized a mask flexibility trial, provided the school’s COVID-19 case count remains below 4% of the school population for the previous two weeks. The trial is set to start Tuesday.
Participation in the trial would require parental consent and participation in the school’s pooled testing program.
The Board of Health also put a pause into the trial, which would start Feb. 18 and resume one week after the students return from February break on March 7, should their case count remain below 4%.
“I think it’s time for us to let the School Committee do what they do and protect the students,” Board of Health Chair Kevin Baker said at the Jan. 31 meeting. “I think it’s smart to put a plan into action and to get this done, give the kids some sense of normalcy and take the masks off.”
School Committee Vice Chair Justin McCarthy said in an email he would attempt to remove the week of “unnecessary remasking.”
The original School Committee waiver request, which was approved unanimously at the Jan. 27 meeting, included the entirety of Littleton Public Schools, including the Shaker Lane, Russell Street and Littleton Middle schools.
“The landscape of COVID has changed,” said McCarthy. “It’s time for us to adapt and change again.”
The School Committee based its waiver request on the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s requirement that 80% of students and staff be vaccinated to lift their mask requirement. As of Jan. 27, 86% of Littleton was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the state Department of Public Health.
At the School Committee meeting, Katrina Wilcox Hagberg, an epidemiologist with the Boston Collaborative Drug Surveillance Program, made note of the recent dip in positive cases of COVID-19 in the Littleton school system. While they reported 95 cases from Jan. 8 to Jan. 14, that number dropped to just 34 cases for the week of Jan. 22 to Jan. 28.
While positive cases remain the highest they have been since the start of the pandemic, they are currently the lowest since the emergence of the omicron coronavirus variant, according to her presentation.
Superintendent of Schools Kelly Clenchy said rapid antigen tests would be available to every student and member of staff through the end of the school year, in accordance with DESE’s updated testing guidelines.
Clenchy maintained that the School Committee, as well as the Board of Health, must remain cautious as they start the trial and look to the future.
“Just because we’re in a slide doesn’t mean we’re going to be forever,” Clenchy said. “I think attention to detail, attention to data has been a huge determining factor in our success.
“I don’t want to be overly cautious, but we need to be cautious. It’s not time to party, we’re not there yet,” he said.