Westport superintendent: Masks not required at recess; No remote learning next year

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Westport Superintendent Thomas Scarice at a school board meeting on Monday. Taken Oct. 5, 2020.

Westport Superintendent Thomas Scarice at a school board meeting on Monday. Taken Oct. 5, 2020.

DJ Simmons/Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — Masks are no longer required outside at recess or physical education, Superintendent Thomas Scarice announced as part of the changes to the district’s COVID policies.

The district also will no longer continue offering remote learning next school year, Scarice said in a recent statement.

He said the changes are a response to falling infection rates and rising vaccination numbers.

“As our transmission rates recede to levels not seen since last September, and our vaccination rates continue to climb, I have great confidence that we will safely end this year with a strong sense of normalcy,” Scarice said.

In the statement, he said that, though the Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Public Health continue to recommend that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people continue to wear masks inside school buildings, there’s more flexibility in outdoor settings. The state Department of Public Health issued its own statement Thursday saying that masks aren’t required when students are outside doing such activities as recess and PE.

Scarice said Westport is choosing to follow that recommendation.

“With our low community transmission rates in both the town and our schools, as well as an increasing number of vaccinated staff and students, masks will no longer be required for students when outdoors for both recess and PE,” he said. “We will continue to move towards a return to complete normalcy as quickly as possible, while keeping appropriate measures in place to ensure the safety of our students and staff.”

In the same statement, Scarice announced that the Westport Public School won’t offer remote learning “as a permanent instructional option for next school year,” unless otherwise mandated by the state.

“The remote learning option, like a number of other approaches and investments, has been critical to our remarkable success this year,” Scarice said. “Although students have experienced success in this pandemic year, if anything else, this year clearly proved that there is no replacement for in-person learning.”

Peter Yazbak, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said he doesn’t know how many districts have changed their mask strategies or discontinued remote learning for the coming year, but that many places are updating their responses.

“As the CDC updates its guidance, we continue to work closely with (the state Department of Public Health) to assess the suite of mitigation strategies the state has focused on this school year, including the wearing of masks,” Yazbak said. “We also continue to provide districts with guidance on additional recommendations around the use of mitigation efforts in schools while emphasizing the importance of remaining vigilant despite warmer weather and the rollout of the vaccine.”