For the first time in nearly two years, Everett students can go to school without masks. The decision was the result of a 5-2 vote by the School Committee to discontinue the district’s mask mandate.
During the February 28 meeting, School Committee Member-at-Large Samantha Lambert originally suggested that the mandate remain in effect until March 14. “Everett is still not out of the woods; a number of people have traveled,” she said.
Lambert reminded her colleagues that following Winter Break the number of COVID-19 cases jumped to 582 for Everett residents in the 0-19 age bracket. She also said there is a five-day waiting period to determine if someone has tested positive or negative for the virus.
Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahiliani agreed with Lambert’s proposal to keep the mandate in place until March 14. “I think that’s a prudent plan as of now,” she said, adding that the School Committee was not under any time constraints. “There are no deadlines in play.”
However, after consulting with city health officials and representatives from Cambridge Health Alliance, School Committee Vice Chairperson Michael McLaughlin said it would be safe to lift the mandate immediately. Unlike January’s staggering numbers, 37 cases of COVID-19 were reported between February 1 and February 24 for the 0-19 age bracket. “I feel strongly that we should relax this mandate,” said McLaughlin, adding that students and teachers should still have the option of wearing a mask.
Ward 1 School Committee Member Millie Cardello said the mandate has been detrimental to students’ social and emotional well-being. “These kids are begging to get these masks off. I can’t vote for extending it any longer,” she said.
On February 9, Jeffrey Riley, commissioner of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, announced that the statewide mask mandate would be lifted on February 28. However, each district would have the option of keeping the mandate. “During the past two years, the impact of COVID-19 on children has caused a strain on their mental health, emotional well-being and academic success,” Riley said in a written statement. “We are relieved to now be in a place where we can provide young people additional relief from COVID-19 restrictions so they can continue to return to normalcy in the classroom.”
In accordance with federal orders, masks will continue to be required on school buses.
ELYSARC Needs Assessment
In other news, Kayla Mangan and Dom Washington, executive directors of the Everett LGBTQ+ Youth Space and Resource Center (ELYSARC), will be conducting a Needs Assessment at Everett High School.
Mangan said high school students who are part of the city’s LGBTQ+ community are more susceptible to harm and harassment. This can easily lead to future problems with homelessness, addiction and mental health issues. “If we want to stop this problem from perpetuating in the future, we need to get to the root,” said Washington. “We want to be there; we want to be dynamic.”
Mangan said a survey will be sent out to students and staff to compile quantitative data that will be used in focus groups. The final data will ultimately be used to create a data narrative.
In addition to Everett High School, the ELYSARC is working with Saugus Middle High School and with Susan B. Anthony Middle School in Revere.
In the aftermath of the January lockdown at Everett High School, Tahiliani said American Alarm has installed 21 new security cameras throughout the building as well as 20 door alarms. These are all up and running and working right now,” she said.
Tahiliani also said Navigate360 will be conducting full-day ALICE (active shooter response) training on April 19 and April 20. In addition, interviews remain ongoing to hire a security director. “We’re trying to come at this from several different angles,” said Tahiliani.