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Pioneer school district to supply students with month’s worth of masks

  • Seniors at the Pioneer Valley Regional School put together sets of juvenile masks for elementary students to try. From left are Kensey Gibson, Ryan Potter, Caoilinn Lounder, Jane Potee and Jason Quinn. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2022 4:04:02 PM
Modified: 1/14/2022 4:03:09 PM

NORTHFIELD — Each family in the Pioneer Valley Regional School District will have an option to receive free masks from their schools in a new initiative to ensure every student has access to a safe, effective mask.

The move comes after state-issued masks to educators were criticized by local teachers and the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA). Speaking by phone Friday, Interim Superintendent Patricia Kinsella said the district consulted with district physician Dr. Ruth Potee on ordering new masks and decided to “step in.”

“(We started this) when we began to get wind of the sad news that the KN95s distributed by the state for adults and students were not of the quality we had originally been told,” Kinsella said. “The state did not come through and the district was going to come through.”

Starting Friday, elementary school students in the district are being sent home with a paper bag with two masks. The district requests that parents help their children choose which of the two KN95 masks fit the best — adult-size masks are also available — and fill out a Google Form with the requested mask. Once received, the school will send that child home with additional masks of their choosing so they have a mask for every day of the week.

“The idea behind this, families, is that we want to send you home with a couple different masks that you can try on with your child and see what works,” Kinsella said at Thursday’s School Committee meeting. “You’re going to let us know which one you prefer, if you want, and we will send you home a supply of six more masks so you have seven masks total.”

Kinsella cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines stating KN95 and N95 masks can be reused up to five times. In the meeting, she explained students would put their mask into their bag after wearing it and would not use it again until the following week, which would allow time for any contaminants to dissipate.

“They take their mask out of their Monday bag on Monday morning, put it on, happily go on to school,” Kinsella explained. “They come home, take off their Monday mask and put it back in their Monday bag, where it sits for a week and all the bad things that might be on it die or go away.”

The supply of masks is expected to last students until February vacation, at which point the district will order more if necessary.

The district is expending Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) money to order several thousand masks for students and staff. Kinsella said the total cost amounts to just under $5,000, which she described as a “drop in the bucket” in the school’s ESSER budget.

Middle and high school students at Pioneer Valley Regional School will be presented with a few variations of N95 masks. They will then have the opportunity to choose which mask fits them best and the school will provide them with a supply of those.

At Thursday’s meeting, Kinsella revealed she had to place the order on her personal credit card because the vendor the school is purchasing masks through requires a “10 to 15 day credit check on the district.”

“The times are calling for creative provisioning,” she said. “It’s silly that school districts are having to figure out how to order PPE.”

Kinsella told the Greenfield Recorder that using her personal credit card is “not good policy” for the district, but it needed to be done in a transparent way to ensure the safety of children.

“I’d rather do that and have a not good practice that people know about,” she said, “and get the masks in people’s hands.”

As the district began preparing packages of masks for elementary school students on Friday, Kinsella said several high school students volunteered their time to help put together the bags.

“This was real community service,” Kinsella said. “This was putting a health safety tool into the hands of their younger siblings that helps younger children stay safe. I’m really proud of them.”

Kinsella also thanked Potee, the School Committee and everyone else involved in the move to supply masks for the entire district.

“This was a real make-it-happen fast and well endeavor,” Kinsella said, “and everybody stepped up.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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