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Some Doctors, Parents Want Schools To Transition To 'Mask Optional'

BOXFORD (CBS) - Sitting in the school library, many wearing masks under their noses, holding signs that read 'Unmask Our Children,' a crowd of parents in Boxford Wednesday night represented a growingly frustrated sector of the population: those that want to transition to mask-optional schooling.

"Our kids are tired," said Renee Leonforte, a registered nurse and parent of students at Masconomet Regional High School. "Our kids have gone through so much throughout this pandemic."

Early moments of the meeting were tense, as some parents refused to wear masks and clashed with the Chair of the School Committee who threatened to adjourn the meeting.

"At lunch, we wear it off anyway and we are sitting at a table eating and I don't think it would matter if we did anything else [without a mask]," said one student who attended the meeting with his mother.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's school mask mandate is set to expire on February 28. The expiration date has been pushed back several times over the school year, but so far, DESE has not made any plans to extend it. Still, schools that have a population that is 80 percent or more vaccinated have the option to receive a waiver to transition to mask optional. Such is the case in the Masconomet Regional School District, representing Boxford, Middleton and Topsfield, though the district has not yet made any move to transition away from mandatory masking.

Tufts Medical Center epidemiologist Shira Doron tells WBZ she hopes the expiration date remains February 28. In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, Doron and other area doctors advocated for a transition to mask optional in our schools.

"You now have the tools to protect yourself with vaccines and boosters, with one way masking," she explained, noting that more widely available N95 and medical grade masks keep the people who wear them safe. "We can move on from 'my mask protects you and your mask protects me' when people protect themselves with high quality masks," she explained.

Doron proposes that the high risk and risk averse are still welcome to wear high quality masks, as the overall policy transitions to an "endemic" strategy of mask optional.

Early in the week, Massachusetts Secretary of Health Marylou Sudders and Secretary of Education James Peyser sent a letter to area colleges encouraging them to pursue an "endemic" strategy to COVID-19, noting their vaccination rate of nearly 100 percent. "Together, our goal must now be to transition the COVID-19 Pandemic into an endemic, a highly contagious virus that is manageable and allows us to regain a sense of normalcy," the letter said.

The letter did not address what should happen in K through 12 schools in the state.

In the Masconomet district, School Committee Chairperson Zillie Bhuju says the superintendent plans to propose a mask optional policy beginning on March 14. That would still face approval from the local board of health.

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