Early in the summer, parents and students had reason to hope that maybe, just maybe, face masks would not be on the list of back-to-school supplies for September.
The Delta variant has shut the door firmly on that prospect.
At the latest Sag Harbor School Board of Education meeting on Monday night, Superintendent Jeff Nichols said, in all likelihood, students and teachers in the elementary school and middle-high school will be masking up once again when they return to the classroom for the 2021-22 school year.
“The primary consideration is that vaccines still aren’t available to children 11 and under,” he said, adding that until the COVID vaccine is approved for emergency use for children in the 5 to 11 year-old age group, the “prudent thing to do” is require masks when schools open.
The vaccine has been available for high school-aged students, and some middle school students for a few months now, but Mr. Nichols pointed out that the majority of the student population in the sixth grade will not be 12 years of age by September, and dropping the mask requirement for both middle school and high school students — who share some hallways and common spaces — would increase the likelihood of exposure for those younger middle school students still not eligible for the vaccine.
“It’s likely the middle school and high school will be masked as well, until some time after the emergency use authorization comes,” Mr. Nichols added.
During the public input portion of the meeting, Heather Hartstein — a parent of five in the district who spoke at the last meeting and expressed concerns about vaccines and masks — had several questions about the mask policy for the upcoming school year and sought answers for potential scenarios that might play out. Among them — would the school at some point mandate vaccinations for students and how will the mask policy change once the vaccine is available for the entire student population, leading to a situation where some students are vaccinated and others who opt out are not?
Mr. Nichols pointed out that it is still early to say definitively what the district’s policy will be that far into the future, but said he sees the mask requirements evolving over time.
“Once the vaccines are made available, I think the district, within a reasonable amount of time, can become less stringent with regard to masks, because then everyone has a personal choice to access the vaccine,” he said, adding that when that time frame is reached, the districts’ role in requiring masks would be “greatly relaxed.” He said that, as it relates to the vaccine, students will still have the choice whether or not to receive it, but he did not say whether or not students who decline to get vaccinated, once it is available for all, will still need to wear masks.
The State of New York has also not yet issued guidance on whether it will mandate a COVID-19 vaccination for students attending public or private schools, While the state does not mandate a flu vaccine, it does require students receive a number of other vaccinations to attend public or private schools.
Park Negotiations Still Ongoing
In response to another public comment, board Vice President Sandi Kruel gave a brief update about the district’s ongoing negotiations with Mashashimuet Park. At the end of the school year in the spring, the district revealed that it was not renewing its contract with the park, which has been home to the majority of the school’s fall and spring interscholastic sports teams for decades. The two sides have since come back to the negotiating table, and while Ms. Kruel did not provide many details, she tried to assure the public that both sides were working toward a solution that would keep the sports and the athletes at the park for at least another year.
“It’s our hope to work together and provide the best scenario we can at the park,” Ms. Kruel said. “The conversations are ongoing; they have not stopped. We’re just trying to work out details. It’s our hope that we can be at the park, but if it doesn’t work out, we do have good solutions, and we will let the public know what those are. But right now, we’re in the middle of negotiations.”