School Committee Discusses Mask Policy

Reading, MA — By a vote of 6-0, the School Committee accepted the first reading of a revised face coverings policy on August 16. The draft policy states, “A face covering that covers the nose and mouth will be worn by all individuals in school buildings and on school transportation.” School Committee member Shawn Brandt described the policy as “a reasonable place to start the year.” He cited families that have medically fragile children or immunocompromised persons at home as reasons for his comments. 

Member Erin Gaffin called the need for the conversation “super-frustrating” while acknowledging “we need to do everything in our power to keep kids safe and in our school buildings.” Chair Thomas Wise noted that virtual options for schools would not be allowed by the state this coming year. Wise did express concern over the “never-ending, open-endedness” of the draft policy and offered amendments to the draft to address his concerns. Member Carla Nazzaro agreed, looking for specific metrics to be used to guide how the policy could be amended in the future.

Based on Wise’s concerns, the committee spent time adjusting the draft to include data metrics such as vaccination rates, transmission in the schools, and incident rates in Reading and Middlesex County as those that would guide decisions. It also included a provision that these metrics would be shared with the committee bi-monthly at a minimum. Member Sarah McLaughlin also offered several amendments that were adopted, providing exceptions to the policy, specifically for instructional needs when students’ ability to see the formation of words might be needed, such as in phonics or world language. McLoughlin’s amendments also included exceptions for specific student educational needs, such as students needing speech therapy instruction. Exceptions were also added for outdoor physical education classes.

Several parents and community members spoke out against the use of masks on children. Citing research regarding mental and motivational harm, one parent stated, “Please do not mask our children to make unvaccinated adults feel better.” Another suggested that scientific data stating that kids are not harmed by masks be available before mask use is mandated by the schools.

Parent Brian Paulson urged “rational decisions based on data, not fear” in making the choice. Parent Justin Perry suggested that the policy was not ready for a vote. Committee members could be held liable for any negative consequences of their vote on the issue. “Trust in this community,” Perry urged.

Several parents also spoke in favor of the policy, thanking the committee for its thoughtfulness. The second and final reading of the policy is scheduled for the Thursday, August 18 School Committee meeting.

The School Committee voted 6-0 to appoint Susan Bottan as the new Director of Finance. Bottan currently serves as Director of Finance and Operations for the Wayland Public Schools. Superintendent of Schools Thomas Milaschewski, who referred to Bottan as “hard-working, respected, and a collaborator,” expects her to start in mid-September. Gaffen agreed with Milaschewski, 

“I could not have envisioned a better fit for this position,” Gaffen exclaimed.

The committee also engaged in a training session on public and student records given by counsel Colby Brunt. Chuck Robinson was chosen to represent the committee on the board of the Reading Coalition for Prevention and Support. At the close of the meeting, Nazzaro revealed that she would be making a motion at the Thursday meeting to rescind the vote taken to appoint the vice-chair. The School Committee adjourned at 10:20 pm.

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