Mask Mandate for Schools Remains in Place

While mask mandates have been lifted in a number of neighboring communities, students in Chelsea public schools will be required to wear masks for a while longer.

At last week’s School Committee meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Almi Abeyta recommended lifting the mask mandate effective March 14. Abeyta cited declining Covid numbers in the city, and said the additional week would give the schools time to help prepare students and staff.

But several School Committee members expressed hesitancy at lifting the mandate at the current time.

Committee member Roberto Jimenez Rivera said many households have young children who are not eligible to be vaccinated or immuno-compromised family members.

“People are trying to move to the pandemic being over, but there are still many people testing positive every day,” said Jimenez Rivera.

He said the district should not be lifting the mask mandate for political reasons. The state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) ruled that districts could discontinue mask policies as of Feb. 28.

Jimenez Rivera said he would like to see the mask policy remain in place through the end of the school year, and if Covid numbers remain low over the spring and summer, do away with the policy in the fall at the beginning of the new school year.

School Committee member Jeannette Velez said she is in favor of lifting the mask mandate, noting that the mask mandate in the city was lifted as of March 4.

“Since DESE made the announcement, I did get phone calls from parents saying that they were ready to lift the mask mandate,” said Velez. “I am for lifting the mask mandate. The city of Chelsea and the public schools have done a great job responding to Covid.”

Committee member Naomi Zabot asked Abeyta what her reasoning was behind requesting lifting the mask mandate.

Abeyta said the district has always been cautious when dealing with the pandemic. She said the decision was made because school officials looked at the science showing Chelsea with a current positivity rate at 1 percent.

Abeyta also noted that students and staff would have the option to wear masks if they so choose.

“The last thing I want to do is put people somewhere so they are feeling unsafe,” said Abeyta. “We don’t move forward as a community unless we feel it is the right thing to do.”

The superintendent said she did hear the hesitancy on the part of some School Committee members to lift the mandate, and recommended tabling the issue until a future meeting.

School Committee member Ana Hernandez said a special meeting on the issue could be held before the School Committee’s next regularly scheduled meeting in April.

In other business, the committee approved the transfer of $1.1 million from benefits and payroll adjustments to the facilities and transportation account to help with expenses in that department.

The committee also amended the non-bargaining salary and wage schedules for 2021-22 for salaried positions. Since the district has settled all contracts, the recommended modification to the pay structure for salaried positions will help the district remain competitive when hiring for non-union positions.

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