The Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) is discussing a mask-optional policy in schools as COVID-19 cases decrease in the Bethlehem area.
On Feb. 28, the Bethlehem Area School Board is slated to vote on an updated Health and Safety plan which will lift the masking policy currently in place throughout the district.
A number of states, including New Jersey and Delaware, have recently announced that they will be lifting mask mandates in schools in the coming weeks.
Lehigh University also announced that designated areas in libraries will become mask-optional beginning Thursday, Feb. 17.
Joseph Roy, superintendent of schools for the Bethlehem Area School District, said schools in the area are reaching a point where they can eliminate mask mandates due to low COVID-19 case counts for faculty and students, as well as among members of the community.
He said the ability for faculty and students to get vaccinated has added a degree of extra protection that makes the decision to lift mask mandates in schools a viable option.
Roy said he and the BASD are in constant communication with St. Luke’s University Hospital and the Bethlehem Health Bureau, both of which support the removal of the mask mandate.
Roy said he foresees the implementation of a mask-optional policy as a possibility for the near future.
“I expect the school board to approve a new safety plan that would include the optional mask requirement at our next meeting on Feb. 28,” Roy said. “And then, the mask option would immediately go into effect.”
Roy said the rationale of this decision represents a balance between safety and the ability to educate students.
Liberty High School Principal Harrison Bailey said he hopes that if the optional mask mandate goes into effect, students who want to continue wearing masks feel comfortable doing so.
“We need to make sure that the environment allows them to feel safe,” Bailey said.
Roy, who attended various faculty meetings on this topic, said many BASD faculty and staff members are also in favor of the removal of the mask mandate.
“We felt that we are now at the point where we can still achieve safety without wearing masks which helps us on the education side,” Roy said.