WA vaccination survey regards possible mask lift

A graphic of a person taking a survey.

South Bay by Jackie

A graphic of a person taking a survey.

Melanie Duronio, Co-Managing Editor

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued a statement on Sept. 27, stating that mask requirements in schools will be extended until Nov. 1. However, as of Oct. 15, if a school verifies that over 80 percent or more of their students and staff are vaccinated, then they will be exempt from the mandate. Unvaccinated individuals would still be required to wear masks.

Schools that wish to lift the mask mandate must collect proof of COVID-19 vaccinations for all eligible students and staff. WA has yet to make a decision regarding a potential mask lift but is currently collecting data via survey to verify that over 80 percent of our students and staff are vaccinated. All WA students and staff are encouraged to participate.

This does not guarantee that WA will allow the exemption, as the survey’s main purpose is to gather information so a decision can be made when the time comes. Once the data is collected, more information will be shared with students and staff.

Even so, since the Board of Health passed a town-wide mask mandate for all public spaces in Westford, there needs to be approval from the local BOH as well as the DESE.

“This mandate supersedes the DESE Mask Mandate,” said Superintendent Christopher Chew. “So, unless a change is made at our local Board of Health level, WPS would not be able to consider the Oct. 15 DESE provision.”

According to a recent Board of Health report, Westford has a vaccination rate of 74 percent. This does not take into account the number of breakthrough cases, which have risen amongst both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Due to these factors, Chew intends to communicate with the BOH in order to determine when and if a mask lift would make sense for Westford Academy.

“My ultimate hope is that we get to a place where it [COVID-19] is no longer part of the conversation. That is idealistic at this point, so my more immediate hope would be for greater understanding and patience between the groups of people who passionately disagree on how we should be responding at this moment,” said Chew. “We have come a long way from March 2020 and made significant progress […] we need to listen and seek more empathy for each other.”

WA is currently the only public school in Westford that is viable for the mask lift, as the vaccine is not yet available to students who are in 6th grade or attending elementary school. Specifically for the middle schools, an entire third of their student population would be put at risk if a lift was to be instilled for them.

Although elementary students are not liable for the exemption, they do not seem to be struggling with masks as a whole. Dr. Chew reports they are still able to effectively communicate with their teachers and peers, and that the introduction of masks this year has allowed them to sit closer together and collaborate more than before.

“We are making progress even though at times it does not feel like it,” said Chew.