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MASKS OFF! School Committee votes, 7-2, to lift mask mandate in Malden Public Schools

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It is now ‘optional’ to wear protective facemasks for all students and staff in Malden school buildings

  The Malden School Committee at its Monday night meeting voted, 7-2, to lift the mask mandate in the Malden Public Schools (MPS), making it “optional” for students and staff members in the city’s seven public school buildings. Several members said it was “the hardest decision I have had to make as a School Committee member.” (See separate story.) The three new members of the School Committee, who were just elected this past November, voiced the same sentiment. The School Committee members were referring to a vote they were asked to take at Monday night’s first “in-person” meeting of the calendar year on the mask mandate for students and staff in the MPS buildings.

  All students, staff and visitors have been required to wear a protective facemask covering the nose and mouth, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, since the schools officially opened on September 1. Governor Charlie Baker and Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) officials declared in February that the school mask mandate was lifted at the state level as of February 28, leaving it in the hands of local districts to make their own decisions.

Mayor: ‘This is not an easy one’

  Before the vote, the chairperson of the School Committee, Mayor Gary Christenson, summed it up well. “This is not an easy one,” he said of the decision the School Committee was being asked to make. “This is one where you must look from within.”

  On a 7-2 tally, the Malden School Committee voted to officially rescind the mask mandate in the MPS. “Effective immediately,” Ward 3 School Committee Member Jennifer Spadafora stressed in making the motion to lift the mask mandate.

  Voting in favor of lifting the mask mandate – which went into effect Monday evening, in time for the next day of school, Tuesday, March 8 – were School Committee Members Mike Drummey (Ward 1), Robert McCarthy Jr. (Ward 2), Jennifer Spadafora (Ward 3), Vice Chairperson Adam Weldai (Ward 5), Joseph Gray (Ward 6), Sharyn Rose Zeiberg (Ward 8) and Chairperson/Mayor Gary Christenson. Voting against rescinding the mask mandate were two of the three newly elected members of the School Committee: Dawn Macklin (Ward 4) and Keith Bernard (Ward 7).

  In the course of the discussion leading up to the vote, there was extensive reference to an in-city “Mask Survey” undertaken by the MPS. It was made clear the results were from a survey taken from mid-January until February 11, when COVID-19 cases were spiking due to the omicron variant, locally, statewide and nationwide.

Since mid-February, COVID-19 cases plummeting

  Since about the second week of February until this week, numbers of new cases have plunged dramatically. For instance, in the Malden Public Schools, there were 500-plus COVID-19 cases reported districtwide in the 10 days following the Winter Break, December 23-January 3. This past week, as reported on the MPS COVID-19 Dashboard, there were 18 new cases reported out of close to 7,000 students and staff combined, less than 1/4 of 1%.

  Malden School Committee student representative Christelle Jean cited some results from an earlier period, with 55% of MHS students surveyed responding it was too soon to lift the mandate on February 28. Again, this was taken during a period when cases were spiking. Another question asking if they agreed “mask-wearing should be optional,” MHS students responded 67% in favor of that statement. Jean said 529 out of 1,887 total MHS students responded to the survey.

  Later in the meeting, after the vote was taken to rescind the mask mandate, in her general Superintendent’s Report, Supt. Dr. Ligia Noriega-Murphy summarized what was in total a very detailed breakdown of the citywide mask survey, She said there 1,833 total responses via GoogleDoc, email and telephone voicemail with 827 (45.1%) stating it was “too soon” to lift the mandate February 28 and 36.7% (670 respondents) agreeing that an optional mask-wearing move would be welcome.

  Supt. Noriega-Murphy also noted the survey was taken in the January-February bridge period when cases were spiking. At that time she reiterated the numbers the Malden Public Schools has been posting since the start of the school year on the MPS website, maldenps.org.

Supt.: Respecting individual decisions on mask-wearing will be #1 goal in district

  After the vote, the Superintendent addressed those in attendance and stressed the district would be paying close attention to the reception the new policy would be receiving across the district, anticipating some students and staff would take off the masks, while others would choose to continue to wear them. “Our number one goal as a district will be to establish and maintain an atmosphere of respect for all our students and staff whatever they may choose,” Supt. Noriega-Murphy said, “whether that means continuing to wear the mask, or not wearing the mask.

  “It is a personal choice and we will see that there is respect in the Malden Public Schools to honor those choices made by our students and educators,” she said. “We want everyone to be safe, be happy and enjoy the last few months of the school year.”

  The Superintendent said that despite the rescinding of the mask mandate the district would be continuing all of the policies and programs that are now in place “to keep our students and staff safe,” as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

  Dr. Noriega-Murphy said handwashing and the use of the many hand sanitizer stations in every school building, at every main entrance and exit door, would be continued, as would the availability of free masks in every school, every day, for the remainder of the school year. In addition, a supply of free COVID-19 take-home test kits is available for the asking throughout the district. The Superintendent said that some 3,000 Malden Public Schools families had already received free take-home test kits, some of these families having received them multiple times.

  Also, free COVID-19 vaccine clinics are scheduled at each one of the school buildings, coming up later in March with exact times, dates and locations listed on the school website: maldenps.org. Dates are as follows: Tuesday, March 22 (Forestdale School and Salemwood School); Wednesday, March 23 (Ferryway School and Linden STEAM Academy); Thursday, March 24 (Beebe School and Early Learning Center); Friday, March 25 (Malden High School).

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