NARRAGANSETT – With the lack of a state mandate addressing masks in public schools, individual districts across Rhode Island are currently working on adopting health and safety policies for the fast-approaching academic year. The Narragansett School Committee on Wednesday evening unanimously voted to require students to wear masks in school during periods of local moderate transmission or above as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In periods of low transmission, masks are recommended though not required.
“The recommendation of the CDC, the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Rhode Island Department of Education is that schools have students universally masked this school year,” said Narragansett School System (NSS) Superintendent Peter Cummings. “In looking at that, and in crafting a policy that’s trying to be responsive to local conditions, the suggested policy in Narragansett is that if we are in a period of low transmission as indicated by the CDC, masks are recommended but not required. If we are in a period of moderate or high transmission then masks are required.”
Narragansett currently sits in the “high” transmission category as defined by the CDC, which is 100 new cases or above per 100,000 population. 10-50 new cases constitutes “moderate” transmission according to the federal guidance, 51-99 cases is “substantial” transmission and “low” transmission, where masks would be optional in school, is 1-9 new cases per 100,000 people. The categorization of the transmission rate would be determined by data pertaining to the Town of Narragansett specifically, meaning that even if Rhode Island as a state was in a period of high transmission, but Narragansett was in a period of low transmission, masks could be recommended though not required at Narragansett public schools.
Many health, pediatric and educational organizations have advocated for universal masking policies in public schools in the upcoming academic year. While Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee did not mandate masks in schools this time around (a mask mandate in public schools existed last year), he has pushed districts to adopt a masking policy while maintaining that ultimately leaving the decision up to districts will allow “conversations to occur.”
The NSS policy, meanwhile, will be applied weekly, and parents and guardians will have information regarding the town’s transmission rate readily available, the school committee said. Under the policy, masks will be required inside, though not outside. The policy can be re-examined in the future should guidance from state and federal health agencies change or a certain threshold of eligible students become vaccinated.
“However, at this time, we have been asked by the CDC, RIDOH, the governor, have all strongly recommended a masking policy within the school,” said the Narragansett superintendent.
According to Cummings, about 58 percent of Narragansett’s eligible student population is vaccinated. Children under 12 years of age are still not eligible to receive any vaccine for COVID-19.
The link to the town’s COVID-19 data, updated weekly by RIDOH, will be available along with the newly approved policy on the district’s website.
During discussion on the motion, school committee chair Tammy McNeiece asked about how positive cases are quantified.
“We know we have a lot of tourists here,” she said. “How does that come into play if a tourist rents a house for a week, gets sick, goes for a COVID test and they’re positive. Does that positive data count towards Narragansett or their hometown?”
A member of the school department said that the positive COVID test would count towards whichever town and state are listed by the patient in their address.
“That’s tricky,” said McNeiece. “What do you put for your address if you’re here for three months? What do you put for your address if you’re here for three days?”
Many districts in the state are currently considering a similar policy that would also defer to CDC classifications of local virus transmission rates to decide masking policies.
Narragansett students will return to school on Sept. 8.