FAIRHAVEN — Fairhaven public school students will start off the year fully masked, but if all goes well, the requirements will be lifted gradually in a four-phase plan starting with the oldest students first.

That's part of the COVID safety approach unanimously approved by Fairhaven's School Committee on Wednesday.

Newly appointed Fairhaven Schools Superintendent Tara Kohler presented the plan to parents and School Committee members following a public hearing in which parents spoke both for and against a mask requirement.

 

In Kohler's phased approach, mask requirements will slowly be phased out for students starting with high schoolers.

"My vision here is really to get as close to normal as possible," she explained, noting that officials will monitor cases and transmission and if all goes well, the mask requirements will begin rolling back.

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"I think if we can take off as many protocols as possible to have kids back in motion, back between classes, back feeling like school was, let the numbers show that we're doing a good job, and then let's start backing it off," Kohler said.

High schoolers will be the first group to go mask-optional in Phase 2, followed by grades 7 and 8 in Phase 3 and all students in the final phase.

 

Masks will not be required during any outdoor activities, including recess — but could be required for sports depending on MIAA guidance.

As part of the return to normalcy, strict COVID protocols will only be observed coming into school and then again at dismissal, and lunches will be taken in the cafeteria.

 

 

Kohler reminded the committee that with last year's strict, multi-layered approach, there was "no documented transmission" in Fairhaven schools.

"We had great outcomes where we would quarantine people and they wouldn't turn up positive," she said. "So I think that shows that some of the mitigation strategies did, in fact, work."

 

Before Kohler outlined the plan, parents spoke at the public hearing, with more parents coming out against mask mandates than in favor.

Of those against the mandates, many cited concerns with their kids' mental and respiratory health.

But others noted that if the virus spreads in schools, immunocompromised kids and family members would be put at risk.

"This isn't about freedoms, personal choices. It's not about what kids deserve. It's not about what we want," said Fairhaven mom Lindsey Romney.

"There is a biological reality descending on us. If you give this virus fuel for its fire, like rooms full of unmasked kids, you are going to increase the numbers."

The first day of school in Fairhaven is Aug. 31.

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