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Some western Massachusetts school districts reinstate indoor mask mandates

Bridge Street School in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Kevin Gutting
Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
Bridge Street School in Northampton, Massachusetts.

At least two school districts in western Massachusetts have reinstated mask mandates in light of increasing COVID-19 rates in the community, and some parents are angry about it.

Sam Stoddard's 10 year old son — a fourth grader at Leeds Elementary — went to school Tuesday morning without a mask.

He and his family knew he was violating the mask mandate reinstated Monday in Northampton. In fact, they wanted to find out what would happen to those who choose not to wear them.

“They sent him down to the principal's office, and we just wanted to see if they were going to remove him or what the authority was, what the policy was there,” Stoddard said

His son did eventually put a mask on.

Stoddard said he believes COVID is real— he's vaccinated and boosted — but he considers forcing children to wear masks at this point unnecessary and harmful to their development.

He also said he thinks it makes no public health sense, especially since Hampshire County is still considered medium risk for COVID by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stoddard would support mask-wearing if the transmission rate was higher “and if we already had a mask mandate that covered adults in indoor spaces, that adults frequent restaurants, stores, workplaces without that,” he said. “It seems odd that we'd be discriminating against children who are at the lowest risk and at the highest need to not wear masks.”

Stoddard said he was also alarmed the decision was made by Northampton Superintendent John Provost without public input.

Provost did not respond to requests for comment. In a letter to parents on Monday, he said the infection rate had doubled in just a few days.

"I know there will be a variety of opinions concerning this decision. It is not one that I made lightly," he wrote. "I believe this intervention must be attempted because the current increase in disease spread is impacting the lives and learning of many within our school community."

The elementary school district in Leverett also reinstated its mask mandate.

Principal Annie Foley Ruiz said an agreement with the union required her to bring back masks as soon as Franklin County reached the highest COVID risk level, which it did.

“I think I feel the way everyone feels,” she said. “I think that we are tired and frustrated, but also want to make sure that our community is safe and that we're able to continue the good work that we do at school. And we're willing to do the things that we need to do in order to make that happen.”

Ruiz said most Leverett parents are sympathetic with the changing mask rules and have not complained to her.

Several other school districts in western Massachusetts, including Pittsfield and Hampshire Regional, have said they are encouraging masks and might consider reinstating the mandate if COVID rates continue to climb.

The district in Amherst is encouraging all people to wear high quality masks at school but said it is not a mandate.

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