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Stonington school officials to hold Dec. 8 forum on masks, quarantines

Stonington — Superintendent of Schools Van Riley has announced that a public forum, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 8 in the high school and broadcast online, will be held to discuss issues such as state mask mandates and COVID-19 quarantines.

In addition, Riley told the Board of Education on Thursday that he has offered to have the school system serve as a pilot program for implementation of so-called "test and stay" protocol, which is in place in other states such as Massachusetts. Under the policy, in which close contacts of an infected person get a rapid test daily for at least five days after exposure, students can still participate in school regardless of where in school the exposure occurred.

"It would be helpful to keep students in our schools," he told the board. "Everyone else is doing it. Why can't we?"

Riley said he has also been in discussions with state Sen. Heather Somers, R-18th District, and state Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, about the issues.

Riley's comments on Thursday night came after two parents at the school board meeting again criticized the state-ordered mask and quarantine requirements that continue to be in place, saying they disrupt learning and the mental health of students. 

Parent Michael Evering urged the school system to put pressure on Gov. Ned Lamont's office and the state Department of Education.

He challenged the board to represent residents and make a change as he said Lamont will continue to do what he wants.  

"We need to do what's best for our children, which is to get them out of masks and let them return (from quarantines)," he said, adding the current mandates are unfair to students because they are already behind.

"Where are the numbers to prove they need to be out of school?" he asked.

Riley also told the board that the school system moved quickly to implement the new "screen and stay program" in which students and staff — regardless of vaccination status — don't have to quarantine if they're a close contact of someone who tests positive for COVID-19, providing they were masked, they don't have symptoms, and the contact happened during the school day. The policy, which Lamont  announced Nov. 4, is voluntary for districts.

Riley said screen and stay is a small step but not adequate. 

That's because the policy does not include situations where masks were removed and 6 feet of spacing was not maintained such as in the cafeteria, in the classroom during a snack period, or on buses. In those cases, close contacts who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated would have to quarantine for 10 days, or seven days with a negative COVID-19 test from day five or later.

Howard is now asking the state Department of Education and state Department of Public Health to revise the policy to include cafeteria contacts.

Riley said he has asked Howard and Somers to address the lunch and bus contacts as those areas are where most of the quarantines are coming from. 

"We hope the state will give us leeway in that area," he said, adding the quarantine situation would be 80-90 percent better with the cafeteria and bus changes.  

The school system's COVID protocols and information can be accessed at https://www.stoningtonschools.org/district/heatlh-updates-instruction-plans.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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