SOPHOMORES Ryan Michalski and Katherine Cash were smiling from ear-to-ear on Feb. 17 due to Lynnfield High School becoming mask optional. (Dan Tomasello Photo)




LYNNFIELD — All four schools will become mask optional when students and staff return from vacation on Monday, Feb. 28.

The School Committee unanimously voted to support Superintendent Kristen Vogel’s decision to have all four schools become mask optional during a Feb. 15 meeting. The vote occurred five days after the Board of Health and Select Board unanimously voted to rescind a mask mandate for town buildings.

School Committee Chairman Rich Sjoberg recalled that Gov. Charlie Baker and Education Commissioner Jeff Riley announced on Feb. 9 that the statewide mask mandate for schools will be lifted on Feb. 28. He said state officials recommended dropping the mandate due to “the commonwealth’s high vaccination rates and widespread availability of COVID-19 testing for school personnel and students.”

Vogel recommended that all four schools become mask optional beginning on Feb. 28.

“We feel very good about the vaccination numbers in our community and the vaccination numbers in our schools, which continue to go up every week,” said Vogel. “We feel at this time it is in the best interest of all to go mask optional.”

Vogel stated in a letter emailed to parents on Feb. 18 that Lynnfield High School’s vaccination rate is 80 percent, Lynnfield Middle School’s is 63 percent, Summer Street School’s is 64 percent and Huckleberry Hill School is 60 percent.

While the middle school and both elementary schools will become mask optional on Monday, Lynnfield High got a jumpstart on Wednesday, Feb. 16 after the School Committee unanimously accepted a mask mandate waiver that was obtained from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

“We are excited that students and staff have the option to make individual choices regarding mask wearing,” said Principal Bob Cleary in an email sent to the Villager.

Sophomore Ryan Michalski told the Villager that Feb. 16 marked the first time he has not worn a mask at LHS.

“I am happy not to be wearing one,” said Michalski.

Sjoberg recalled that Vogel was informed on Feb. 8 that LHS reached the 80 percent student and staff vaccination benchmark that allowed the district to apply for the waiver.

“Superintendent Vogel immediately provided the attestation form to DESE and applied for the waiver for the mask mandate,” said Sjoberg. “On Feb. 11, 2022, DESE notified Superintendent Vogel that the Lynnfield High School request was approved.”

School Committee Vice Chairwoman Stacy Dahlstedt thanked Vogel and COVID-19 Nurse Coordinator Toni Rebelo for monitoring the high school’s vaccination rate and obtaining the mask mandate waiver.

In response to a question from School Committee member Phil McQueen, Rebelo said she was not concerned about the district becoming mask optional on Feb. 28. She recalled that school officials were concerned there was going to be a spike in COVID cases following last year’s February vacation, but that did not happen.

“I don’t anticipate this year will be any different,” said Rebelo. “I think it’s a good time to move forward.”

Dahlstedt expressed her support for having all four schools become mask optional on Feb. 28.

“I am super proud of our families, teachers, administrators and, most of all, our students for their perseverance over these last few challenging years,” said Dahlstedt. “I am overjoyed that we now have the opportunity for our students and teachers to see each other’s expressions and smiles. I can just imagine the energy that will be exuding from the schools in the coming weeks. We are at a place where the landscape has changed from where we were at the beginning of the school year. I am thrilled that we are at this point. Policy can and should adapt when the context changes, which is what we are seeing here, and I am thrilled about that. I am in favor of Lynnfield Public Schools becoming mask optional. That said, we as a school community need to be respectful of anyone who chooses to continue to wear a mask. Families, students and teachers need to feel comfortable and safe in our schools.”

School Committee member Jamie Hayman noted that the board has followed regulations and recommendations established by DESE, the CDC, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Emergency Management Team and the Lynnfield Board of Health since the pandemic began in March 2020.

“I think this is consistent with what we have been doing the whole time,” said Hayman. “I know that masks have been a hot topic here and everywhere. There are folks who are passionate about not wearing masks, and I appreciate that passion. We do need to acknowledge there is a large and quiet contingent that is going to be anxious about this. That is not to say we shouldn’t do it, but we have to acknowledge that anxiety is real.”

School Committee member Kate DePrizio thanked Vogel, Rebelo, Fire Chief/Emergency Management Director Glenn Davis and the entire Emergency Management Team for the support they have provided over the course of the pandemic.

“I am so excited that there will be more smiles shared in all of our schools,” said DePrizio. “We have always tried to do what was best for the district. I know there are some families who will feel relief and there are others who have anxiety as their students go to school. We need to extend kindness to those who may choose to still wear a mask as we transition.”

McQueen concurred with Dahlstedt, Hayman and DePrizio’s sentiment.

“We need to respect the students who decide to continue masking because they don’t feel comfortable,” said McQueen. “I hope that is something the whole community will embrace and the kids who choose to still wear masks will not be picked on.”

Vogel agreed.

“It is our hope that as the mask mandate is lifted, we will all recognize that the change will concur for individuals at a different pace and for different reasons,” said Vogel. “It is the expectation that we honor their choice and respect their decision.”

Moving forward, Vogel said the district will continue using its COVID safety precautions.

“We have significantly increased our ability to do symptomatic testing of students and staff in school,” said Vogel. “We are participating in DESE’s new weekly testing program where we are offering free at-home COVID-19 test kits for our students and staff for surveillance testing. We are also still continuing to track positive cases in our schools and have the ability to do targeting testing for our elementary classrooms and sports teams if there is concern about a cluster of cases. Furthermore, our protocols for positive students and for unvaccinated close contacts that have exposures outside of school are still in place. Masking is also still required on buses per federal order. It is also strongly recommended that unvaccinated individuals still wear a mask when in our schools and that those who have just ended their five-day isolation period after having COVID-19 also continue to wear a mask for an additional five days when in our schools.”

In response to a question from Hayman about winter sports tournaments, Vogel said the MIAA is following DESE’s mask optional guidelines. She noted that some districts will not become mask optional right out of the gate and sports teams will need to abide by those districts’ rules during the tournament.

The School Committee also approved an amended version of the district’s mask policy, known as Policy EBCFA.

During the public participation portion of the meeting that was held before the three votes were taken, Powder Hill Road resident Suzeanne Guertin criticized the School Department’s COVID-19 safety protocols. The Lynnfield United member also criticized the school board and Vogel for recommending that students and staff get vaccinated.

“We don’t understand why you are providing medical advice to our children,” said Guertin, who is an attorney and not a physician. “Many people around the world are concerned about the efficacy and safety of both masking and vaccinating our children. There continues to be a constant push in this district to vaccinate.”

Guertin also claimed, without evidence, that school officials decided to implement COVID-19 safety measures after the district received Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds from the federal government.

“Will you please stop using our children as pawns to receive federal funding,” said Guertin. “Will you please stop selling our children’s freedoms for money.”

Guertin exceeded the three-minute time limit allowed for individuals to speak during public participation. Sjoberg politely asked Guertin on four separate occasions to wrap up her comments, but she ignored him.