HAMILTON — With a mix of masks and social distancing, Hamilton Schools launches into the 2021 school year this week, advocating precautions, but also personal responsibility and choice.
School started for select classes Monday, and will ramp up to full attendance by Wednesday, just a week after a heated meeting where the school board opted to only require masks for the youngest students, but giving 6th through 12th grades a mask option.
"Because those kids have the option to be vaccinated if they so choose," explains Hamilton School District spokeswoman Justine Stewart. "For grades pre-K through 5th, there will be mask wearing. But not in their classrooms. They only have to wear them when they're in gatherings, so assemblies, in the hallways, they are required to wear masks. But not in their classrooms because we can socially distance."
"And the reasoning for that is because they can't choose to have the vaccine, whereas those older kids can. So until there's a vaccine that these kids and families can choose for them to get, we felt that we had to respect those parents' wishes and offer some protection."
While masks and social distancing will be used in the hallways for elementary students, it's different at the middle school and high school. 5th graders have to follow limited mask rules, but from 6th grade up from high school, wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID will be a personal choice. Students will also need masks on buses, per CDC guidelines.
But beyond the mask guidelines, Stewart says the district is again asking staff, parents and students to take personal responsibility for their health, watching for any symptoms and staying home when sick.
"You know, I think that really worked last year. Our messaging was, if you're sick stay home. Don't come to school. It's that simple. And that goes for faculty, and staff, teachers, everyone. That goes for everybody. If you're sick, stay home."
The district will continue to promote additional precautions, especially for the younger students, with the hand sanitizers, available masks and thermometers that have become ubiquitous in nearly every school building over the past year.