STONINGTON — Mask mandates may soon be eliminated at Connecticut schools, but first members of the Board of Education will need to make adjustments to the district’s COVID-19 safety protocols.

Parents will have the chance to weigh in on Thursday evening regarding which protocols should go, which should stay and how exactly the district should handle its effort to “return to normal” during a special meeting at Stonington High School beginning at 6 p.m. Whether the meeting will result in a change that could see Stonington students unmask remains to be seen.

“The boards still have the option to maintain that mandate to the end of the school year, if they choose to,” Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said this week. ”I hope they will.”

The meeting will be streamed live online through the SPS Live channel on YouTube, but those hoping to speak will need to do so in person, the district said in an email to parents. The meeting will be held in the Stonington High auditorium in an effort to provide ample space for larger crowd sizes, and masks will be required in accordance with current policies.

The meeting comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its recommendations and Gov. Ned Lamont announced last week that he wanted to see the mandate lifted for schools and day care facilities on Feb. 28.

The Connecticut Senate voted Monday to extend some of Gov. Ned Lamont’s remaining pandemic-related executive orders on Monday, including a statewide mask mandate for schools and child care centers, less than a week after the measures were approved in the House of Representatives. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.

Looney said following the vote that his personal preference would be to continue a statewide mask mandate. He told reporters school boards could impose their own mask requirements beyond this month if they choose.

Earlier this month, Stonington Board of Education Chairman Farouk Rajab said the board intended to hear from parents after receiving updated guidance from the state and said the board had no intent to make a decision on the matter until it had heard from parents, staff and students.

Thursday’s meeting will focus solely on the district’s COVID-19 protocols, according to both officials and an agenda released on Tuesday.

There has been considerable attention to mask mandates on both the state and local levels over the past year. Parents, including some with medical backgrounds, have gone before the Stonington Board of Education to argue that the masks are harmful to students, both physically and mentally. Still others, including several teachers and paraprofessionals, have supported extending the mandate, noting that those at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 would be at greater risk.

With more guidance from the state than the district had 10 days ago, officials said the school district must now make its own decisions.

During Thursday’s meeting, following public comments and a presentation from Superintendent of Schools Van Riley, the board will weigh information from many sources, including the local health department, CDC, Connecticut Department of Education, the district medical advisor, parents, employees and others to make a decision, Rajab said in a letter to parents last week.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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