8-31-20 FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL MADISON

Students wearing masks are seen on the first day of school last August. Now masks no longer have to be worn. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)

MADISON — In a sign that we might be rounding the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic, the Madison School Board voted unanimously to allow students and staff to go mask-free at Madison Elementary School for the remainder of this school year at its meeting on Monday night.

For most districts, the school year ends next Tuesday.

“There was no real fanfare to what we did,” board member Michael Brooks said on Tuesday, “but what we did was to give the option — if you want to continue to wear a mask, it’s your choice, but you do not have to.”

The Madison School Board — chair Jim Curran, Jeremy Cox, Wendy Grzesik, Brooks and newest member Eddie Robinson, attending his first meeting since last month’s election — voted 5-0 to make mask-wearing optional.

Brooks said masks must still be worn on the school buses.

“We do not own the buses,” he said. “You have to stay in accordance with whatever the company has for rules. Once you’re off the bus and on school grounds, you can remove your mask if you choose to.”

The following was on the Madison Elementary School’s website on Tuesday: “Based upon updated guidance from the New Hampshire Department of Health Services, we will no longer require outdoor mask use as of June 4.”

The website adds: “With levels of community transmission decreasing, we recommend that schools and childcare agencies can remove masks in outdoor settings (regardless of a person’s vaccination status), including at recess and during non-contact sports. The N.H. DHS still recommends physical distancing between children/students, to the extent possible.

“Outdoor settings are lower risk for COVID-19 transmission, and children are less likely to transmit it.”

“Does it make a big difference doing this with just six days left in the school year, I’m not sure, but it doesn't hurt,” said Brooks. “Hopefully, when we start back up in the fall we can do so with no restrictions.”

The Madison School Board — chair Jim Curran, Amanda Doherty, Jeremy Cox, Wendy Grzesik and Brooks — unanimously approved a return-to-school-plan Aug. 3, voting to support face-to-face learning.

Students weren’t be required to wear masks during the entire school day.

Curran said he and his colleagues collected survey information from parents, and the vast majority did not want masks mandatory for the entire day. More than 50 citizens took part in an Aug. 3 listening session on reopening plans for SAU 13 and the Madison School District.

The 24-page plan says, in part, “Staff and students are expected to wear a face covering according to CDC guidance. Specifically, face coverings must be worn when entering/exiting the bus, for the bus ride, when entering and exiting the building, walking in hallways, and when 6 feet of physical distance between another person is not possible.”

It said the school would provide washable/reusable face coverings, though staff and students may use their own “as long as it aligns with the CDC guidance. If a student or staff member requires a modification or adaptation to this guideline, the principal will discuss individually each situation to identify a resolution.”

“I think we have a good plan,” Curran told the Sun last September. “We know we need to get the kids back into school and what those benefits are.”

On masks, Curran said, “We went with what the town wanted,” adding that when students are in the classroom, they won’t be required to wear masks as long as they adhere to 6 feet of social distancing.

In addition, “(Principal) Heather (Woodward) said masks will not be required at recess, and our goal is to not have them wear masks as much as possible, but they will be required when social distancing is not possible.”

While other school districts in the Granite State are keeping masks on through the end of the school year, Brooks said it’s an individual school district’s decision

“We’re not them, and they’re not us,” he said.

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