NORFOLK — Mask breaks, and how often they could be given, were a subject of discussion during a special meeting of the Norwood-Norfolk Central School Board of Education last week.
Under the district’s policy, using guidance from the state Department of Health, students and staff will wear face coverings for the majority of the day, although students may remove their masks during meal times and when given permission by staff.
Mask breaks will also be built in to allow students to take off their masks at certain intervals of the day.
“Breaks should be infrequent, building to one or less per break period. Breaks should be no longer than two minutes at a time. If possible, breaks will be provided while students are at a greater distance apart and/or when students are outside,” district officials said in a Family Guide on their website.
Under the Frequently Asked Questions, they said there has been discussion and guidance from physicians and the state Department of Health on face coverings.
“Mask breaks will be provided only when potential for the contamination of others is at a minimum. While we know masks are uncomfortable, we have to protect our children and adults — some who are immunocompromised,” they said.
The frequency of mask breaks was a concern to Board of Education President Artie Fregoe.
“I’ve been sitting here for 45 minutes with the mask on and it’s coming off for two minutes for a break. We’re going to have a mask break just like the plan says we can. So, anybody who wants to take their mask off, they can. I know personally I need a break from the mask,” he said.
Superintendent James Cruikshank agreed that mask breaks were necessary, but with some caution.
“Our teachers do recognize when a kid gets the wiggles, when a kid gets antsy, it’s time to move. At the high school it may be a little different than with a 7-year-old, but I think everyone needs an opportunity to breathe for a while. We just need to do it in a safe way. That’s what we heard over and over again from the parents. They were scared that kids were coming in and masks weren’t going to be on,” he said.
He said, if elementary teachers recognized that a student needed a mask break, that child could go to a special area that had been set up in the classrooms.
Mr. Fregoe said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines indicated masks could be taken off if social distancing of 6 feet was followed.
“But if you also talk to our Department of Health and Dr. (Andrew) Williams, he’s saying do it as infrequently as you can because every time you take the mask off, there is a danger,” Mr. Cruikshank said.
Dr. Williams is president of the St. Lawrence County Board of Health.
Mr. Cruikshank said, during a call with county officials last week, they were told that the one underlying ingredient of the recent outbreak of COVID-19 was the non-use of masks, and their policy from the start was to have masks on during the day.
“This isn’t a change. This is as we stated — the necessity of a mask and that is the guidance we’re getting from the Department of Health and Dr. Williams,” he said.