Masks will be optional in Chelsea schools beginning on May 9.
The School Committee voted to lift the school mask mandate at its April 13 meeting, 7-1. Committee member Roberto Jimenez Rivera cast the lone vote against lifting the mask mandate.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Almi Abeyta said the decision was based on a number of factors, including low positivity rates in Chelsea, high vaccination rates, and recent guidance from the state and the CDC.
The schools conducted a recent survey of the mask mandate issue, according to Assistant Superintendent Adam Deleidi. Overall, of the 2,600 participants, 57 percent were in favor of lifting the mask mandate, and just under 43 percent said they would like to see it remain in place for the remainder of the school year.
Breaking down the numbers, students and school staff who answered were more likely to be in favor of lifting the mask mandate, while parents and guardians tilted in favor of leaving it in place.
“With all of that information, we triangulated our data from the CDC, from the city, and then we did the survey, and I am recommending that we rescind the mask mandate for all students and staff, vaccinated or unvaccinated, effective May 9,” said Abeyta.
The May 9 date gives a buffer zone after the end of April vacation, when many families travel, Abeyta said. The exceptions to making masking optional include visits to the school health offices and students and staff returning to the schools after testing positive for Covid.
“If the Covid rates should increase in the city of Chelsea, the School Committee can vote to put the mask requirement back in place,” said Abeyta.
The superintendent said the school department can quickly pivot to call a special meeting if numbers do begin to rise.
“We have called special meetings when we have had to address issues,” Abeyta said. “I believe this committee has done an amazing job in response to Covid-19 in the context of Chelsea.”
Jimenez Rivera said he continues to support keeping masking mandatory until the end of the school year.
“I still think that this is the best course of action and the one that protects our citizens, staff, and families,” he said. “The last time we had this conversation, I think things were looking better than they are now.”
While the positivity numbers are currently low, Jimenez Rivera pointed to wastewater data that shows a potential surge of Covid cases.
“The city of Philadelphia just reinstated their mask mandate, and I am almost certain that they are not going to be the only ones to do so,” he said. “My preference is to continue to stay the course. I do not want to see us come back next month or even in the next couple of weeks through yet another surge and reactively reinstate the mask mandate rather than proactively preventing cases.”
School Committee Chair Kelly Garcia said given the numbers and information presented by the school administration, she was in favor of giving the students and staff the option to wear or not wear masks.
“I trust in our families, and if they want to send their children in masks, we welcome them with open arms, and if they don’t feel comfortable wearing masks, we also welcome them,” Garcia said. “If we need to reconvene the team and plan accordingly to combat whatever is in front of us, we will do so as we did during the last two years during the pandemic.”