Reporter Gabriel Fesehaie also contributed to this article.
In a meeting held on March 7th, the Malden Public School Committee passed the motion to rescind the indoor mask mandate in schools with a 7-2 vote, which made big waves in the Malden High School community and beyond.
The motion to drop masks was not a shock. Given the fact that the mask mandate was dropped in all non-municipal buildings in Malden on February 4th— and many cities around Malden rushed to repeal their school mask mandates— it was only a matter of time before Malden dropped their school mask mandate as well.
The chamber room was relatively packed with seven of the eight school committee members: the Chairman Mayor Christenson, the Vice-Chairwoman Jennifer Spadafora, Superintendent Dr. Ligia Noriega-Murphy, the Student Representative Christelle Jean, and several attendees, including Forestdale School Principal Donald Concannon.
Mayor Christenson started the conversation off by giving the floor over to Jean, who presented information from a survey sent out to MHS students. It found that a majority of students who participated were not in favor of dropping the mask mandate. However, the survey was distributed before the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released information sharing that it is now safe for fully vaccinated individuals to not wear their mask in public, if they so choose. This ended up being a major factor in some of the members’ decisions. Mayor Christenson said, “if Christelle hadn't said that her survey was taken on February 11th I might not have voted to rescind."
Some school committee members cited information from the CDC, stating that with vaccination rates high in Malden, it was now safe to remove the mask mandate. Ward 5 School Committee Member Adam Weldai went on to talk about how the policy in place before the vote was first created and how that influenced his decision: "Our policy was initially created based on the recommendation and the advice from the Board of Health and based on the scientific data. It wasn't created based on feelings or politics or anything around the pandemic, it was created from medical advice and data.”
He added that “we have heard from our Board of Health that we are ready to make this move and I am cautiously optimistic. I am comfortable voting tonight in favor of that reason."
However, other school committee members expressed their concerns about the topic. Ward 4 school committee member, Dawn Macklin was particularly concerned that students who continue to wear their masks after the mask mandate fell might be bullied and ostracized. She was also worried about immuno-deficient students, teachers and parents.
Ward 8 school committee member Sharyn Rose Zeiberg and Vice-Chairman Jennifer Spadafora were quick to respond. Both pointed out that schools have other methods in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 that will remain in place after the mask mandate falls. They also claimed that the ability for teachers to teach without a mask significantly benefits students.
Prior to the vote, the parents and guardians of children were in frantic contact with the school committee. Weldai added “we’ve been hearing very 50-50 [split] down the middle." Weldai also noted a surplus of emotional content related to the vote during his comments, stating that he “wants to give special appreciation to those who chose to express their opinion in a constructive and respectful manner...this was the first time in a while we got a lot of the opposite.”
After all the school committee members who wished to speak had spoken, Mayor Christenson made a lengthy statement about the decline of the coronavirus in Malden, especially in the Malden Public Schools. Utilizing statistics from the CDC, the mayor stated that:
- For the 16-19 age group, Malden had a vaccination rate of 73%,
- For the 12-15 age group, Malden had a vaccination rate of 70%,
- And for the 5-11 age group, Malden had a vaccination rate of 40%.
Compared to the national averages of 56.4% for the 12-15 age group, and 22.6% for the 5-11 age group, Christenson went on to praise the city: “Malden has really done a great job when you compare this to the national average.” He also continued to say that compared to the beginning of the school year, Malden has acquired many more helpful tools to deal with COVID, such as take-home test kits and vaccine clinics, which helped Malden to reach a point where they could consider taking masks off.
Following the Mayor’s remarks, the School Committee then proceeded to vote on the resolution to remove the mask mandate within the Malden Public Schools, introduced by Spadafora and seconded by Weldai. The motion was carried with Jennifer Spadafora, Adam Weldai, Micheal Drummy (who attended this meeting virtually), Joseph Gray, Sharyn Rose-Zyberg, Rob McCarthy and Mayor Christenson in favor, and with Keith Bernard and Dawn Macklin against.
Ever since that school council vote, faces have been more and more prevalent within the Malden Public Schools, as both teachers and students begin to take their masks off.