Cheshire Academy Going Mask-Optional later this month

Cheshire Academy will make masks optional on its campus this month, after students and staff return from the school’s planned spring break.

Principal of the schools, Julie Anderson, explained to the herald last week that administrators decided to wait until after the next recess, scheduled for March 11-29, to ensure “students and staff enjoy their break.” Given that Cheshire Academy is a private boarding school with students coming from all parts of the world, it was decided that changing mask mandates should err on the side of caution.

“We’re extremely cautious,” Anderson said. “We want people to really enjoy this break, so we thought it best to be a bit more careful and keep the masks on until then.”

The Academy considers itself a fully vaccinated school community, which provides administrators with another layer of comfort in terms of switching to a mask-optional model for the remainder of the spring semester, Anderson said. Also, when the Academy meets again after spring break, more activities are planned outside, weather permitting. Given that the virus has been shown not to transmit very effectively outdoors as opposed to an indoor environment, the school is confident that it can safely move away from many of the mitigation protocols that have been in place at different times during the pandemic.

“We make these decisions in consultation with our medical director, Chesprocott (health district), and state officials,” Anderson said. “We are moving to mask optional, and it will be very important to respect everyone’s comfort level and decision (regarding masks).”

“We will ask everyone to always bring a mask with them (to school), just in case there is a situation where it is needed,” she continued.

While the school won’t officially transition to a mask-optional model until the end of March, some Academy actors will have the opportunity to remove their masks this week when they perform their show, “The Lighting Thief : The Percy Jackson Musical”. (March 9, 10 and 11). In 2020, the annual production had to be canceled due to COVID-19, while last year cast members had to wear masks throughout the performance. But this year, the masks may come off…at least while the students are performing on stage.

“They’re so excited,” she said. “Our students have been so good, but they are happy to take the masks off. I know our athletes are also excited.

The Academy is following in the footsteps of most Connecticut schools in moving away from mask mandates, after Governor Ned Lamont’s statewide mandate expired on February 28, handing the decision over to local districts and to schools for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The Cheshire School District moved to a mask-optional model last week, and Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan said officials do not plan to mandate masks unless required by a state authority. State.

Anderson commented that the Academy will always retain the ability to institute a mask mandate on its own if it deems necessary, even in the absence of a state mandate. This, she explained, is a product of the school’s student body containing so many overseas and overseas students, with limited space to quarantine them if they test positive.

“It just adds another layer to the decisions we have to make, so we want to be as flexible as possible,” she said.

Anderson joked that she would rather find a word other than “pivot” to describe the reactions of the school community over the past two years, but reiterated that administrators, teachers, students and parents had to be “agile” in order to deal with the uncertainty of the pandemic. For example, she admits that last June and July she had assumed masks would no longer be needed by the time students resume classes in September. Even as recently as last November, Anderson was thinking of ways to open up more.

“Then our medical director (Debra Bond), who is a rock star, said to me, ‘Oh, Julie, we have the omicron coming,’ and she was right,” Anderson said.

At no time during the school year has Cheshire Academy been forced to close due to an outbreak of COVID-19, and Anderson said that while a number of students and teachers have tested positive, the school has had no more than five students requiring isolation at any one time.

The Academy decided to extend its normal winter vacation, sending students home in early December, in response to the increase in the number of cases caused by omicron.

Now, members of the school community are preparing for a return to something more like normal.

“We are planning our big graduation ceremony for this year,” Anderson said, after the last two ceremonies had to be changed due to COVID. “We haven’t had a full on-campus reunion (for alumni) in three years, so we’re excited to schedule this.”

“It’s just exciting to get back to what we do best,” she continued. “I think there’s a percentage of people who are a bit anxious. They may feel like now we’re going to be exposed, but for the most part, I think everyone is feeling excited. It feels like the end is in sight. »

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