Shelton schools eye mask policy ‘based on individual choice’

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — City students may soon be able to go maskless in school.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that the state would lift its requirement that students, teachers and staff wear masks in schools — one of his most fiercely contested COVID-19 mandates — and is instead shifting the power to local leaders to make decisions for their districts.

Lamont said he is recommending the statewide mandate be lifted Feb. 28.

“This announcement is the first step in a long process,” Superintendent Ken Saranich stated in an email to the school community Tuesday.

Saranich would not comment on Shelton’s plan going forward, saying that the state legislature will still need to act on Lamont’s recommendation before the district can proceed.

“We will need to receive guidance from the (state Department of Education) as well as the state and local (health departments),” Saranich said. “Once the final recommendation is determined, it will be communicated to our community.”

Saranich, though, did say the school administration did not intend “to extend any mandates that have not been extended by our state legislature. Our goal is to meet the needs of all students and staff in an effort to provide a safe learning environment based on individual choice.”

Saranich said, in the meantime, as this process continues, “we need to remain focused on our mission of providing instruction in a safe learning environment.”

Giving the power to school districts follows a similar tactic Lamont took amid recent spikes in COVID-19 infections in which he empowered municipal leaders to institute their own indoor mask mandates instead of enacting a statewide order.

“We are two years into this thing. You’re not going to get an all-clear sign, not going to be a day they say we have zero infections,” Lamont said. “We know from previous experience that there will be additional ripples as time goes. I think this is the right decision at the right time to give this discretion ... up to our superintendents. More to the point, I think it’s going to be milder and less impactful and that means your vaccine, and your booster and your mask on special occasions are going to be more impactful and keep you safe.”

Lamont’s move to lift the school mask mandate came the same day New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a close ally of Lamont’s during the pandemic, announced he will lift his state’s requirement for students and teachers to wear masks.

School board Chair Kathy Yolish said Shelton would comply with the legislature’s decision.

“If the order is extended, we will comply,” Yolish said, “And if the masking mandate is lifted, we will obviously go in the direction of the new recommendation.”

Yolish said she understood issue was a a tricky one to navigate.

“The masking issue is a very sensitive issue on both sides and I’m aware that CABE (CT Association of Boards of Education), CAPSS (CT Association of Public Schools Superintendents), and the CEA (CT Education Association) have taken a stance against removing the mask mandate,” she said.

Yolish said she would expect Saranich to meet with the district’s COVID Operations Advisory Group to address the mask choice option when appropriate.

“No matter what transpires we need to be respectful and considerate to everyone,” Yolish said. “Our students and staff safety and health are our top priority and I am hopeful that the metrics show that we can address this issue collaboratively.”