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'Never Had A Normal Year Of School': Parents Frustrated As They Await Mask Decisions

FOXBORO (CBS) - In Foxboro Monday night, it was easy as a quick emergency school committee meeting, a unanimous vote, and boom: schools will go mask optional starting February 28.

The power to go "mask optional" was given to cities and towns across Massachusetts when the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that its statewide school mask mandate would expire on February 28. Now, in the following week, a number of school committee meetings are scheduled across the state to decide the next steps.

Some school districts, like the city of Chelsea, have opted to keep masks a little longer. "We are a dense community," Superintendent Almi Abeyta explained. "We are a community that was hit hard by COVID when COVID first hit us back in March 2020, so we are extremely cautious, and we have to listen to the needs of our community."

In less densely populated towns like Milton, parents are growing frustrated that school committees haven't yet voted to go mask optional. "Parents need this over. Children need this over. The time has come," Milton mother Rachel Riccardella told WBZ.

She has two daughters, ages 11 and 7. "She has never had a normal year of school in her entire life. And for me that is devastating," she explained about her youngest.

Milton's school committee is set to meet and vote on Wednesday night, but Riccardella fears that going mask optional will be delayed after listening to a subcommittee's meeting on Monday. "It's been two years of a roller coaster, a lot of emotional ups and downs, with masks really being kind of the last hurdle we have to get over," she said.

Matt Lheureux of Andover feels the same about his children. "My son hasn't even been to a school in his life yet where he hasn't had to wear a mask," he told WBZ.

Lheureux plans to attend the Andover school committee meeting on Thursday to encourage the committee to vote to go mask optional, though no vote is scheduled for Thursday.

"The School Committee does not adopt new policy or changes to existing policy without two readings as defined by the district's policy," explained an Andover spokesperson. "Following the Committee's policy and process for adopting district policy, a vote would happen at the committee's next meeting, currently scheduled for March 3rd."

The March 3rd date, days after DESE's mandate expires on February 28th, doesn't sit well with Lheureux. "They say kids are resilient and they definitely are, but that doesn't mean you can just throw anything at them," he said. "I can go into any store in this town and not have to wear a mask, but my children have to wear them 8+ hours a day in school."

WBZ checked the COVID-19 data for all cities and towns in this story – Andover, Milton, Foxboro, and Chelsea – and all have plummeting case rates in recent weeks, in line with the statewide trends.

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