LACONIA — Face masks will continue to be required in many cases for staff and students in the city’s public schools, the School Board has decided.
The board voted to retain the policy mandating that masks continue to be worn inside school buildings when people cannot keep 6 feet apart. The vote was 4-2. The two negative votes were cast by board members Laura Dunn and Dawn Johnson, who have opposed the mandate since the board first authorized it on Sept. 21.
Although masks are not required for those who can maintain 6 feet physical distance, the school district is strongly recommending that they be worn in those instances too.
During his presentation to the School Board Wednesday evening, Superintendent Steve Tucker said that COVID cases in Belknap County and in Laconia had declined over the past two weeks. But, he noted, some schools in the state had switched to remote learning because of rising COVID numbers. With COVID numbers continuing to fluctuate it was prudent to keep the mandate in place, he told the board.
The board has taken a vote at every meeting since masks were first required on whether to continue the mandate. Tucker said his recommendations have been based on current COVID statistics and guidance from the state public health authorities.
In another COVID-related issue, Tucker said the school system is arranging to have COVID vaccine clinics at each of the city’s three elementary schools.
This follows the decision on Tuesday by U.S. health officials giving the final approval to Pfizer’s kid-size COVID-19 shot, opening a major expansion of the nation’s vaccination campaign to children as young as 5.
The Food and Drug Administration already authorized the shots for children ages 5 to 11 — doses just a third of the amount given to teens and adults. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention formally recommends who should receive FDA-cleared vaccines.
Tucker said the clinics are being arranged in collaboration with the Winnipesaukee Public Health Network which is working with district officials on when exactly the clinics will be held.
All students who have their parents’ approval will be able to get the shot.
Tucker has said that the vaccination-participation rate among Laconia students is low. But he noted that 60 students aged 12 and up had been inoculated at recent vaccine clinics held at the high school and the middle school.
In a move that signaled a return to business as usual, the board voted to resume meeting at the Board Room at the School District headquarters on Harvard Street. The next scheduled meeting is Nov. 16.
The last time the board met at Harvard Street was March 17, 2020, two days after Gov. Chris Sununu issued his emergency order ordering that schools be closed. For several months thereafter the board met remotely. It then resumed in-person meetings, but held them in the culinary arts dining room at the Huot Career and Technical Center. More recently the meetings have been held in the High School auditorium.