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Students will not need to be masked at summer school

STORY BY GEORGE ANDREASSI (Week of April 29, 2021)

Summer program students will be allowed to go facemask-free when they can maintain at least 3 feet of social distancing, under new COVID-19 rules proposed by Indian River County School Superintendent David Moore.

Facial coverings will be optional when students are sitting or standing at least 3 feet apart, whether in a classroom, a school assembly, or an extracurricular activity, if the School Board approves the new rules.

Students can also go without masks while eating in the cafeteria or other designated areas when summer programs start June 7, under the new rules Moore proposed.

The School Board was to review Moore’s 21-page Safe at School 2021 Summer Program Plan during a business meeting Tuesday evening.

Moore released his plan after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance Saturday for protecting children during summer camps that continued to call for: “universal and correct use of well-fitted masks that cover the nose and mouth.”

The main change in the CDC guidance was reducing the physical distancing recommendation to 3 feet from 6 feet for campers in their immediate group, or cohort. But the CDC still recommends staying at least 6 feet away from others.

“These revisions, particularly as related to decreased physical distancing guidelines, will significantly increase opportunities for students and staff to remove face coverings throughout the instructional day,” Moore’s report says.

Since far fewer students participate in summer programs, there is more room to spread out and go mask-free. However, face coverings will still be required for all students and staff when physical distancing of 3 feet is not possible, Moore says.

That includes on the bus to and from school, during arrival and dismissal times, in school hallways and during transitions across the campus.

All five School Board members have expressed a desire to phase out the mandatory mask policy instituted for the reopening of schools on Aug. 24.

“All trends indicate that optional masks starting with summer school should be possible,” said School Board Chairman Brian Barefoot, who represents the barrier island.

“I look forward to phasing out masks when it is safe, prudent and in the best interests of the community to do so,” said School Board member Mara Schiff.

“It will depend on COVID rates and guidelines at that time and the advice of the CDC, Department of Health, local medical professionals, educators and staff,” Schiff said.

Several School Board members have said they do not want to switch to an optional facemask policy before schools close for summer on May 28 because the change could divert attention from crucial standardized tests.

“Changing policy now with one month to go has the potential to be disruptive of teaching,” Schiff said. “Moreover, we are still following CDC guidelines and current CDC reports put Indian River County in the ‘red’ or high-risk zone for COVID transmission.”