Masks mandatory for Rochester students from pre-kindergarten through 6th grade

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Masked students, teachers and teacher's aides emerge from the Maple Street Magnet School last year. (Rochester Voice file photo)

ROCHESTER - Rochester students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade will be masking up today following a school board vote on Thursday.

The measure, proposed by Sarah Harrington, passed 10-3, and would only apply to indoor settings when the three-foot social distancing could not be ensured.

The decision was part of an often passionate, sometimes contentious nearly two-hour discussion on the pros and cons of mask wearing, its effectiveness at preventing COVID spread and its detrimental effects on young people in general.

The decision to mandate masks indoors at pre-k through sixth grades came about after a larger discussion that included calls for the entire school system be required to mask up.

Many school board members argued that those in seventh grade through high school had the ability to be vaccinated, which gave them added protection form the virus, which was not available for younger students, leading the way to the compromise. Harrington's proposal passed easily, 10-3.

Social distancing under new DHHS guidelines is now three feet instead of the six feet originally defined.

The board also voted 11-1 to allow state DHHS officials to determined when individual schools had a COVID cluster, which Rochester Schools Supt. Kyle Repucci said occurred when either three or four students - depending on the time stamp of a newly identified case - had occurred at the school.

According to DHHS guidelines, anytime a cluster is identified at a particular school, universal mask wearing at the facility is mandated throughout the school day for a minimum of 10 days.

Board members also unanimously approved the creation of an ad hoc committee to explore further recommendations to mitigate risk and report back to the board next month.

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