DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani Credit: Christine Stuart photo

State agencies released two documents late Friday afternoon advising local education administrators to consider elements like COVID transmission levels and the “risk tolerance” of their districts when crafting mitigation policies in the absence of a state mask mandate. 

School districts across the state have been anticipating guidance this week from the Departments of Education and Public Health for developing local COVID mitigation strategies to fill a void left by the statewide classroom masking policy set to expire on Feb. 28. 

That guidance came Friday, in the form of two short documents. One offers concepts for boards of education and local officials to consider when drafting their own policies. The other gives guidance on transitioning to a local respiratory disease prevention model. Both documents are three pages long and neither lays out specific numerical COVID metrics, which towns might use as thresholds to enact specific policies. 

Among the considerations the state advised towns to use when developing policies were local vaccination rates, vulnerable students and staff, and the tolerance of the district.

“What is the risk tolerance in your school district for the possibility of increasing case numbers and necessary quarantine and isolation in your students and staff?” the guidance reads and asks administrators to consider whether “implementing fewer in-school mitigation strategies will have any effect on the ongoing provision of in-person learning.”

Generally, the guidance backs implementing well-known mitigation strategies in the event of outbreaks. The state advises universal masking, limiting things like visitors and the mixing of students, as well as notifying potentially exposed individuals and recommending they get tested. 

The documents recommend encouraging uptake of COVID-19 vaccines and supporting individuals who continue to wear masks. The state advises people who test positive or show symptoms to follow federal isolation guidelines. Districts are advised to be prepared to react quickly to rapid increases in cases.

Notably, the guidance does not call for contact tracing or individual case investigations. 

A law passed this month by the legislature gives the commissioner of education authority until June 30 to revive the statewide school masking policy if the virus situation worsens. Barring that situation, it will fall to local boards of education at the end of this month to craft their own policies. As of earlier this week, several towns had already announced their own guidelines while others awaited guidance from the state.