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School mask debate continues as local cities, towns now tasked with decision

The Senate voted to extend Gov. Lamont's executive orders, but he says the mask mandate will end on Feb. 28, leaving mask decisions to local school boards

HARTFORD, Conn. — Decision day is looming for local cities and towns faced with the task of either requiring masks in schools or getting rid of them when the statewide mask mandate expires at the end of the month.

On Monday afternoon, the Senate voted to extend 11 of Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor signed the bills into law on Tuesday. Among those executive orders was the highly contested mandate requiring masks in schools. 

The Democrat governor has said he wants the mask mandate lifted on Feb. 28. The decision now falls to local cities and towns on whether they want masks in the classrooms.

"I just think it’s time it’s been two years," said Sara Salomons, who has two children at Hall High School in West Hartford. "I’ve come to the decision that we have to live with this and figure out ways of living with this. I’m not anti-mask, I think it definitely served its purpose now but now I think it’s time.”

The state Department of Public Health and Department of Education said in a joint statement, come Feb. 28, decisions on masking requirements in schools will be made at the local level. 

Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents Executive Director Fran Rabinowitz says she anticipates most school districts will make masking optional but they’re waiting for more guidance from the Department of Public Health.

“I think many of them are going to have that discussion with the board and with public comment, many of them have sent surveys to families just to get an understanding of what the families are thinking,” Rabinowitz said.

RELATED: State Senate votes to extend 11 executive orders and state of emergency

Rabinowitz said school buses under federal regulation so masks must still be worn on board. 

Salomons said neither of her children has had a "normal, traditional high school experience" because of the pandemic and hopes the masks will be a thing of the past come next month.

"We were on our way out of the door this morning and my sons say, 'oh I need a mask,' and he was saying, 'I’m just so sick of wearing masks' and I said I think it’s almost time," Salmons explained.

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Meanwhile, Kylie Chmielewski, also from West Hartford, said she believes children should still wear masks in school because “it’s an environment where everyone is so closely packed.”

“I know that younger generations can get vaccinated but many aren’t yet so I think it would be beneficial,” Chmielewski said.

Watertown Public Schools will transition to optional masking for students and employees on March 1, according to the superintendent’s office.

But in New Haven, the masks will need to stay on for now. Mayor Justin Elicker has an executive order in place that requires masks in public spaces and he said he plans to continue that order to cover public schools moving forward.

"By and large, I’ve heard from many school staff and parents that they want to make sure, and through an abundance of caution, that we keep that mask mandate in place," Elicker said. "The medical experts, not the politicians, but the medical experts are saying to me it’s not quite time to roll those requirements back to take off the masks."

If there is another variant or COVID-19 cases spike, the Commissioners of Public Health and the Department of Education could implement another statewide mask mandate until the end of June.

RELATED: House lawmakers pass vote to extend school mask mandate, vote to extend state's emergency declaration

Besides the masking requirement, other executive orders being extended include requiring vaccination or testing for nursing home visitors; relaxing certain training and hiring requirements for medical professionals to address staffing shortages; and waiving bidding requirements to procure goods and services needed to respond to the pandemic.

DPH and CSDE plan to put out more guidance for schools to limit the spread in the coming days. We’ll keep you updated when that comes out.

Lindsey Kane is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at Lkane@fox61.com. Follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Elisha Machado is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at emachado@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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