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Districts making no changes to mask policy

With around one month to go until the start of the 2021-22 school year, local districts are sticking with a masks-optional approach in the wake of changing U.S. Center for Disease Control guidance.

On Tuesday, CDC officials said they recommend all teachers, staff, students, and visitors in schools to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Previously, the organization said fully vaccinated people didn’t have to wear a mask.

“Our administration met yesterday to go over the CDC recommendation and at this point we’re respecting the decision the Jim Thorpe board of directors made to have masks be optional in our buildings,” John Rushefski, Jim Thorpe superintendent, said Thursday morning. “We are preparing some information for the board at its next meeting, but right now we’re abiding by the approved health and safety plan.”

To date, no area district has said masks will be required for the upcoming school year.

“We’re going to have information for our board as well so it can be discussed at the next board meeting, but right now we’re status quo with masks being optional,” Lehighton Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver said. “That is the way we’re running our summer programs right now, with masks optional.”

Like Lehighton and Jim Thorpe, Tamaqua Superintendent Ray Kinder said the Schuylkill County district hasn’t had any new discussions about mask since deciding to leave that up to students and parents this year.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 1,088 new coronavirus cases and four deaths Thursday. Carbon, Schuylkill, Monroe and Lehigh counties are in the moderate category for community transition level for the most recent week of data, while Northampton County was in the substantial level.

“Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said earlier this week. “The CDC recommends community leaders encourage vaccination and universal masking to prevent further outbreaks in areas of substantial and high transmission with the Delta variant.”

Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that everyone older than 2 years old wear a mask in schools, regardless of their vaccination status.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and Pennsylvania Department of Education officials said this week they wouldn’t go as far as to mandate mask wearing in school, even after the new CDC guidelines were released.

“Our schools have gone to great lengths to help create safe learning environments and protect their communities throughout the pandemic,” said Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “Acting Secretary Beam and I advise schools to continue to protect their communities by following current CDC guidance, to the greatest extent possible, as they plan and prepare for the new school year.

“These measures will help ensure students, educators, and school staff experience a safe return to in-person teaching and learning this fall.”

The department continues to urge Pennsylvanians to follow CDC guidance for wearing a mask.

The department also announced it will send text message reminders to residents who have not gotten the vaccine.