Wilton school district considers ‘mask optional’ policy

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith penned a letter to the school community Wednesday setting preliminary guidance for masking.

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith penned a letter to the school community Wednesday setting preliminary guidance for masking.

Jarret Liotta / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — After consulting with their medical advisor, the school district is taking preliminary steps toward a “mask optional” policy in grades K-12 and a “mask recommended” policy for preschoolers.

Superintendent Kevin Smith said in a letter to parents Wednesday that recommendations are “premised on an assumption, which has not yet been confirmed.” The state will allow local control on masks on Feb. 28 and will be releasing guidance to districts leading up to that day.

Smith said he will discuss these preliminary recommendations with the Board of Education on Feb. 17, but acknowledged they stemmed from numerous factors.

First, the superintendent said the commissioner of the Department of Public Health expressed support for a mask optional policy for schools. Smith also said he had support from the town’s medical advisor after reviewing the percentage of eligible staff vaccinated, which sits at 97%, and the student population’s vaccination status.

Nearly 94% of students 12 to 17 in Wilton have had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 40% have received a booster. About 45.9% of students 5 to 11 have recieved two doses of the vaccine as well.

The school district has continued to see a precipitous decline in school cases week to week since a January high.

State Rep. Tom O’Dea explained Thursday that, through the governor’s executive orders, school district superintendents and respective Board of Education members will be able to make the local decision come Feb. 28.

Lamont empowered the state department of education and public health to release “advisory, not mandatory” guidance, O’Dea said, and each district would heed the guidelines of the state departments.

O’Dea said he took issue with the notion of the state having the ability to reinforce a statewide mask mandate until June 30.

“If there is a problem, we will give you emergency power,” O’Dea said, adding he and his colleagues are in session right now and can vote on a possible return to executive order if the situation arises, but right now it is not needed.

State Sen. Will Haskell said Thursday that the safeguard is in case of worsening conditions, or a “wave worse than omicron,” then the state would have the ability to act quickly and reinstitute a mask mandate up until June 30.

Haskell said he agrees with Lamont that there no longer needs to be a “one-size-fits-all” approach to masking in the state, but rather give the authority to each individual district superintendent and school board.

Even with the possible institution of making masks optional, Smith said the district will continue to focus on maximizing ventilation, promoting social distancing, offer weekly surveillance testing for both students and staff, provide N95 masks to staff and students who request them, and provide at-home tests to staff and families while supplies last, among other measures.