NEWBURYPORT — A spike in COVID-19 cases at River Valley Charter School prompted its board to approve the return of mandatory mask-wearing in some classrooms, according to school principal Jonnie Lyn Evans.
Evans said there were seven positive COVID cases in a single classroom recently over a three-day period with two more cases confirmed in the following three days.
As a result, administrators voted 8-7 on Tuesday to approve a plan that includes wearing masks for 10 days in a particular classroom where two or more COVID cases are identified over a three-day period.
“This plan, if needed, will help ensure a safe and healthy learning environment that allows educators and students to continue teaching and learning together whenever possible,” Evans said in a statement.
Evans added that the school is “committed to providing our students with a safe learning environment that maximizes learning time and the building of deep relationships.”
Following the positive cases, leaders and the school health team, including the school doctor and head nurse, partnered with area health boards and the State Department of Elementary Education. and secondary to develop appropriate protocols, according to Evans.
“On the recommendation of DESE, we consulted with the Massachusetts Department of Epidemiology, which recommended mitigating the spread through the use of masks in this singular classroom for 14,” Evans said.
Prior to the vote, the council received a letter signed by several parents opposing the measure.
“At this time, we do not believe that any valid data has been provided that justifies mandatory masking at school for students who have been exposed to the virus at this stage of the pandemic,” it read. in the letter, which was sent to the Daily News.
“We would like to affirm the DESE recommendations that our neighboring school districts have adopted: If students wear masks in schools, that decision should be up to parents, not school administrators.”
The letter goes on to warn of detrimental educational outcomes if the warrant is approved.
“We are concerned that the masking required for exhibitions could lead to a situation where many of our students again wear masks for most of the year,” the letter said. “We are increasingly concerned about the negative impact on learning and development that can occur when students wear masks, in addition to the anxiety and frustration our children have experienced having to wear a mask while throughout the school day for weeks.
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, more than one million Americans have died and more than 95 million cases have been confirmed nationwide.
Locally, there were 30 reported cases in September with no deaths, according to the city’s website. The same website shows 92% of Newburyport residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine with 82% fully vaccinated. Additionally, 47% of Newburyport residents have had at least one booster shot and 12% have had two.
Local pharmacies such as CVS hold clinics for the second booster. On Wednesday afternoon, there was a steady stream of people waiting to be vaccinated at the Pond Street pharmacy location.
A phone call to Laura Vlasuk, director of the local health board, for comment was not returned in time for this report.
Dave Rogers is the editor of the Daily News in Newburyport. Email him at: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.