RI K-12 council vote pressures districts to require masks in schools

School Updates

WARWICK, R.I (WPRI) ─ Districts that haven’t issued a mask mandate for the upcoming school year may need to change their approach following the R.I. Council on Elementary and Secondary Education’s decision to reject plans that don’t include one.

Gov. Dan McKee has repeatedly resisted issuing a statewide mask mandate in schools. Instead, he’s leaving it up to the individual districts to decide.

The council’s decision puts an even heavier weight on the shoulders of school districts, even though McKee claims the majority of them are already planning to start the year with a mask mandate.

The council’s decision to reject plans that only recommend mask wearing comes just days before the Warwick School Committee is scheduled to discuss their plans.

Superintendent Lynn Dambruch tells 12 News the vote is pushing her toward requiring masks in schools, though she doesn’t expect it to be in place for the entire year.

“I will be supporting a mask mandate,” she said.

The Johnston School Committee voted to make face masks optional for the upcoming school year last week. Mayor Joseph Polisena said they’re now holding an emergency meeting next week to rethink their plans.

“Opinions are like noses, we all have one. They’re overstepping their bounds,” Polisena said of the council, adding that he expects the committee will reverse their decision.

Despite the council’s decision, a spokesperson for McKee said all options regarding mask mandates remain on the table.

“While all options remain at the governor’s disposal, our team will continue to reach out to the remaining districts, many of which are taking up this issue over the next week,” the spokesperson said.

The potential for mask mandates in schools has sparked controversy among parents on whether the mandates are actually necessary.

Debbie Smith said while she supports the reason behind mask mandates, she’s struggling with the fact that he choice is being taken away from parents.

“I don’t want my medical freedom taken away from me,” Smith said. “I don’t want someone to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do with my kids.”

“I feel like the parent should have the choice,” she continued. “It’s tough to be told what you can and can’t do especially for your child.”

Liz Gambuto said she agrees with the mandates since most children aren’t eligible yet to get vaccinated.

“I think it’s good they will have masks, and then there’s a number of people who haven’t been vaccinated even over the age of 12, so I’m content with it,” Gambuto said.

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