Lamont: About 85% of Connecticut schools are dropping mask rule
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and the head of state's association of school superintendents say about 85% to 90% of school districts across the state have elected to drop mandatory face mask wearing as of Monday, the day when local officials were allowed to decide whether to extend the state's mask mandate.
But the Democratic governor made it clear he thinks it's fine that some districts, including Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury, are keeping the mandate in place for now.
“There’s some people who say New Haven should not be allowed to do that,” said Lamont, following a news conference about his recent trade mission to Israel.
“What do you want to do? You want to be like Ron DeSantis,” asked Lamont, referring to the Republican governor from Florida. “You want to fine New Haven if they want to leave the mask mandate in place a little bit longer? You want to cut off their state funding like they do in Florida? I think we got it about right.”
The state's mask mandate has been in full force since the beginning of the 2021 school year.
Rochelle Brown, a kindergarten teacher at Poquonock Elementary School in Windsor and the state's 2021 Teacher of the Year, said she was surprised to see 15 out of 17 students in her classroom come to school still wearing masks on Monday, despite a mandate no longer being in effect in her district. Brown, who said she is also still wearing a mask in class, estimated about half the children in other kindergarten classes she saw were also wearing masks.
“I spoke to a couple of parents in the room that said, ‘if you don’t mind, I’m going to have my child wear their mask,’” Brown said. “I do have a mom that’s expecting, that kind of wants to keep herself and her kids as safe as possible while she waits for her baby to arrive.”
Brown said a lot of her students, who've never known what it's like to attend school without a mask, told her that their parents still wanted them to wear one on Monday and they took it in stride.
“This is normalcy for them,” said Brown, who doesn't believe masks have really impeded her students' learning. “I didn’t really hear a lot of conversation with the kids saying, ‘Oh, there’s that child, they’re not wearing their mask.’ They just did what they normally do every day.”
Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said she believes masks were off in many classrooms across the state on Monday.
“I just met with a group of superintendents today and it wasn’t even a discussion item. I think people were ready,” she said, adding that she also heard comments about being respectful of students, teachers and staff who still want to mask up. “I’m happy that it appears like we’re on a down ramp from the pandemic. And that is exhilarating. And it also feels like we’re going to be able to start talking about all the things we love to talk about in education, like teaching and learning and making sure what our curriculum looks like and all of that.”
Many school districts also were dropping mask-wearing requirements on buses and vans, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is no longer requiring masks to be worn on vehicles operated by public or private school systems as of Feb. 25. South Windsor and Glastonbury public schools were among those that made masks optional on school buses and vans Monday.
Earlier this month, the General Assembly voted to temporarily extend some of Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s remaining pandemic-related executive orders that were set to expire Feb. 15, including a statewide mask mandate for schools and child care centers. However, citing declining infection and hospitalization numbers, Lamont said he only wanted to keep the mask mandate in place until Feb. 28, giving local school boards time to decide whether masking is necessary in their schools.
The Department of Public Health recently released guidance to school districts regarding the metrics they should consider when deciding to end the mask mandate or restart required mask-wearing if another outbreak develops in the future.