Wear a proper mask, not a gaiter, ORR district says

Sep 24, 2020

Students wearing a mask was always a part of the Old Rochester Regional School District’s school reopening plan. 

But the district adopted a formal policy at a Sept. 24 Joint School Committee meeting that fine tuned the rule, including a measure that ensures students will wear masks instead of face shields, gaiters or masks with ventilators, unless there is a medical exemption in place.

Superintendent Michael Nelson said the policy falls in line with guidelines from Center for Disease Control, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. All three say that the three alternatives do not truly prevent the spread of aerosol particles. 

As for exemptions, the policy states that, in alignment with the CDC, a student may be exempt if they have trouble breathing, is unconscious, is incapacitated or cannot remove the mask or face covering without assistance.

In addition, masks or face coverings won’t be required for anyone who has a medical, behavioral or other challenge making it unsafe to wear a face mask or face covering.

Either way, a written note from a physician is required for a requested exemption. Parents can’t excuse their child from the requirement by signing a waiver.

In the first two weeks of school though, Nelson said students “have honestly been remarkable with compliance.” 

Old Rochester High School Principal Michael Devoll said that high schoolers, all the way down to the preschool students in the building with Project GROW are wearing proper face coverings. 

And for students who show up with a gaiter or ventilated mask, a simple conversation with a teacher and a disposable mask ready in-hand to give have resolved any situations.

“We’re not looking to get into power struggles,” Nelson said.

One part of the policy that school committee members worked out that could have made a power struggle was the wording of the mask dress code.

The initial version said masks must align with building dress codes, and any offensive logos or expressive language are prohibited.

“‘Expressive’ starts to step on freedom of speech,” committee member Tina Rood said. 

Committee member Heather Burke also pointed out that it would be hard to replace the word with “offensive,” a subjective term. 

As a resolve, the committee suggested that the district use the language of OR’s student handbook, which prohibits clothes with obscene language and/or that promote drugs and alcohol.

“We don’t want to be in the business of debating,” Devoll said.