Friday, October 8, 2021
Dear Shawsheen Parents/Guardians:
I think its safe to say that parents, students and educators were all hoping that COVID would not play such a large role in our school as it did last year. Unfortunately, all of our high hopes that we felt in June have come face-to-face with the reality that COVID-19 is still having a significant impact on our lives, particularly in our public schools. At Shawsheen, we are seeing COVID cases increase significantly. Over the past 3 weeks, cases have gone from 3 per week, to 6 per week and as of this writing, we have already seen 15 cases this week. At the same time, the COVID fatigue we are all feeling seems to be causing a significant increase in the number of students who are only partially complying with the mask mandate. While there is admittedly no proof that these two issues are connected, many will find it reasonable to assume that they are.
Regardless of anyone’s personal feelings about mask-wearing, everyone who is physically present inside Shawsheen is required to wear a face mask covering both their mouth and nose at all times, except when actively eating or drinking in the cafeteria. This is a state-wide mandate issued by the Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education and a town-wide mandate issued by the Billerica Board of Health. While I am sympathetic with those who find mask-wearing to be cumbersome and bothersome, it is required. During the month of September, we took a positive and supportive approach to students (or staff members) who were repeatedly seen with their facemask not covering their nose or their mask down around their chin. Those individuals were politely asked by a teacher or administrator to reposition their mask, and providing they did, there were no further consequences. Occasionally, students who needed constant reminding, were sent to the Dean of Student’s office and the office placed a call home to the parent, asking for their support in our efforts to enforce proper mask-wearing in our school.
Unfortunately, whether it be due to “mask fatigue” or “disagreement with the rule,” the number of times we are seeing students violating the masking rule has significantly increased. Clearly, this trend must be reversed.
Effective, Tuesday, October 12th, teachers will be asked to increase their enforcement of the masking rules by increasing their presence in the hallways between classes, modelling proper mask-wearing at all times, and consistently reporting mask violations to the Office of the Dean of Students. We will also be revising the consequences for a mask violation, which will now include detentions or suspension depending on the frequency and severity of the situation. I can’t even begin to explain to you how frustrated I am to have to write that last sentence, but our attempts to employ less punitive consequences to mask violations have clearly been unsuccessful.
Shawsheen is an amazing community of students, their parent/guardians, our staff and our alumnae. As a group, we have always looked out for one another and recognized that we are stronger together than we are apart. I realize that COVID has frayed many nerves and tried everyone’s patience, but I strongly believe that we share a common responsibility to keep Shawsheen’s students and staff physically present in school while the COVID pandemic continues. If the number of COVID cases we are experiencing continues to rise so significantly, a return to all-remote instruction sometime in the future is a distinct possibility. It is, in my opinion, a possibility that we can avoid if we maintain our vigilance and our common commitment to the health and safety of our community.
Thank you for your continued support of Shawsheen during this time.
Bradford L. Jackson, Ed.D.