DARTMOUTH — Students in the Dartmouth Public Schools will be required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status after the School Committee decided against changing last year's masking policy at a meeting Tuesday.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bonny Gifford recommended the measure, citing guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the town's Public Health Director Chris Michaud.

"I know it doesn't set easy with a lot of people," she noted. "We've received emails, opinions on both sides."

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But School Committee members agreed with keeping the mask mandate in place with an option to revisit the rules at any time.

Committee Chair Dr. Shannon Jenkins cited research showing that wearing masks is the second most effective measure to prevent COVID infections, behind vaccination.

"We know in-school learning is better," she said. "We need masking to keep our students safe."

Jenkins also noted that evidence is growing that younger people are increasingly affected by the Delta variant.

Prior to the discussion, she had pointed out that under current CDC guidelines, students would still be required to wear masks on buses no matter what decision was taken by the committee.

Committee member Chris Oliver brought up a recent uptick in cases, Bristol County's high transmission levels, and recent American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations that everyone over the age of two wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

"I think that this is the right thing to do for the children and the staff of the Dartmouth public schools," he said, adding that the committee can revisit the decision down the road.

"For me, it's the only responsible thing to do," agreed committee member Kathleen Amaral.

The district's decision comes just one day after New Bedford's School Committee voted 3-3 to table a discussion on changing their mask mandate.

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