WARWICK, RI – The CDC has ordered students and drivers must wear masks on school buses this fall, and advises they keep them on in class, but the Warwick School Committee didn’t mention the last part while reviewing pandemic safety Tuesday night.
Warwick Schools outlined health plans for the second COVID-19 fall with no mention of the prevention tools.
Everyone at the meeting wore a mask.
“CDC recommends indoor masking for all individuals age 2 years and older, including students, teachers, staff, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status,” the CDC wrote in its latest guidance for school systems as the once-waning pandemic surges with Delta variant COVID-19 cases.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that all students wear masks indoors as part of what they described as a layered approach to make school safe for all students, teachers and staff.
The Delta variant is more contagious and suspected to be more deadly than the strain circulating last fall, when the Warwick School Committee mandated using masks.
Manager of Non-Instructional Services for Warwick Public Schools Camely Machado mentioned the CDC’s order requiring masks for all public transportation remains in effect. The order applies to all public transportation, including school buses. Passengers and drivers must wear a mask on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private school systems, regardless of vaccination status.
Machado said the school department would work with parents of children who are unable to wear masks.
“We’re talking about things like physical distancing, school-based testing for symptomatic or asymptomatic students, posted signage throughout the schools so they understand the procedures for safety. Another component is instruction. We have to assess our students when they return to see what unfinished learning they had, what supports they need. We will be testing them regularly throughout the year so if they need extra help, like a math interventionist, a reading specialist, we can provide that help,” said Warwick Schools Superintendent Lynn Dambruch.
Dambruch noted another health focus would be social/emotional and mental health support. She said support team will be established for every school building and social workers will be added to support the initiative.
“We will be monitoring students’ social and emotional well-being throughout the year,” she said.
Assistant Superintendent William McCaffrey said the schools will be thoroughly cleaned for the safety of all students.
“We’re looking forward to moving forward to making sure we have a healthy and safe school year for all our students,” McCaffrey said.
While the School Committee did not address masks, parents and teachers were outspoken on the issue.
Amanda Ricci, mother of twins entering kindergarten and an 11-year old entering sixth grade, said her older child has Asthma and would come home from school crying after working himself into an Asthma attack from wearing a mask.
Also, Ricci said, “Our children are less likely to be at risk for COVID, so why are they wearing masks?”
Dan Oakes, father of a Cedar Hill first grader, spoke in favor of masks.
“My wife and I very much want schools open, and we want our kid safe in school,” Oakes said. “And we feel that masks, for everybody, is a really important part of that. So I hope you put in place policies for this year that ensure masking, help us keep our kids safe, in school, for the school year.”
Justin Montoya, a teacher at Winman Middle School, said wearing masks should be optional for teachers.
“We have fans going, we have filters in the classroom going, so it’s very difficult for students to hear and to project our voice through the masks,” Montoya added. “I find that very challenging. Many students are actually six feet away anyway. Trying to instruct in a mask is very difficult.”
Leaving masks out of school pandemic precautions as Montoya suggests would make it easier for the highly contagious Delta variant, now accounting for about 83 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., to spread among students, particularly those younger than 12, who can not get vaccinated.
While children are less likely to become seriously ill once they have caught the COVID-19 virus, the more transmissible Delta variant is increasing the number of children who face those odds, so more of them are being hospitalized, according to a New York Times report.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported the same increase in the threat to children from the variant in an Aug. 5 letter to the FDA.
“Last week saw the largest week-over-week percentage increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. The data show 71,726 COVID cases in children reported last week, almost double the 38,654 reported in the previous week. Simply stated, the Delta variant has created a new and pressing risk to children and adolescents across this country, as it has also done for unvaccinated adults,” the letter reads.
“Sadly, over 350 children have died of COVID since the start of pandemic and millions of children have been negatively impacted by missed schooling, social isolation, and in too many cases, the death of parents and other caregivers,” the letter reports.
Rob Borkowski contributed to this report.
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