Concord School mask mandate will remain until March school board meeting

Monitor staff
Published: 2/27/2022 5:20:53 PM
Modified: 2/27/2022 5:20:25 PM

Concord School District’s mask mandate will remain in place until the Concord School Board has the opportunity to discuss it March 7, but principals have been advised not to enforce the policy since state guidance changed last week, according to Superintendent Kathleen Murphy.

The number of in-school hours between Gov. Chris Sununu’s Wednesday announcement that New Hampshire’s universal masking recommendations are ending and the next Concord School Board meeting are few: students attended school Thursday, Friday was a snow day and February break began Saturday. The mask policy will still be in place during the day on Monday, March 7 before the evening School Board meeting, but Murphy said the district isn’t imposing consequences for students who show up without one that day.

“We know that the message was confusing for families,” Murphy said in a phone interview Friday. “There are a lot of folks that really want their children not to be wearing masks, but we also have a lot of parents who insisted their child do wear the mask ... We anticipate that a lot of people will wear their masks, we anticipate that some won’t.”

Gov. Chris Sununu announced that New Hampshire is dropping its universal masking recommendations for public spaces in a press conference Wednesday afternoon. In his remarks, Sununu urged schools to drop their mask mandates immediately because they could be in violation of students’ rights now that public health does not recommend mask use.

“If a school district isn’t providing a fair and equitable education as the law requires them to, I imagine they would face some legal challenges,” Sununu said.

Around the region, some districts including Hopkinton and Bow/Dunbarton already changed their policies in the days leading up to the governor’s announcement. Merrimack Valley and Andover school districts made masks optional at the start of February. Bow High School has been mask-optional since the beginning of the school year.

Other schools have changed their policies as a result of the announcement. Manchester School District announced it was going mask-optional later that night. Pembroke School Board lifted its mask mandate the following evening, one week after a meeting where residents hurled insults at board members for keeping a mask mandate in place as other schools in the SAU 53 District were abandoning similar rules.

On Feb. 16, a week before the governor’s announcement, the instructional committee of the Concord School Board decided to recommend that the District move to an optional mask policy starting March 14, one week after the students return from February break. The Committee suggested waiting a week to account for the spike in cases that typically happens after students return from school break travels. The Committee also recommended that schools return to required masking if positive cases exceed 3% of the school’s population. The decision is subject to a vote by the full Concord School Board, which will take place at their meeting March 7.

New CDC guidelines issued on Friday removed the federal requirement for masks on school buses. Murphy says some details still need to be confirmed, such as whether students need to wear masks into the school nurse offices. She is also concerned about finding ways to protect immunocompromised children who are not able to wear masks.

“Obviously it’s not just easy to change it all, because we have a process,” Murphy said.

The Concord School Board will convene at 6 p.m. on March 7.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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