Masks Become Optional in Waterbury Schools

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The number of schools still requiring masks is dwindling, with Waterbury being the latest district to make face coverings optional.

It was just a week ago the state mandate was dropped and left the issue up to local communities.

As masks became optional in Waterbury schools on Monday, fifth grader Francis Cabrera was ready to remove hers.

“I decided to take it off because I felt more free,” Cabrera said.

Cabrera's brother, however, kept wearing his, according to their mom.

“I have mixed feelings. I know they feel freer and breathe better, but you still feel a little concerned,” said Amaya Cabrera of Waterbury.

Last week parents rallied for the mandate to be dropped, and later the school board voted to do so.

The district said it was finally time to lift the requirement as cases and hospitalizations in the community dropped.

Waterbury joins most districts in the state that give families the choice following the state mask mandate being rolled back one week ago.

“We were pleasantly surprised with how smoothly it went everywhere and how there was mutual respect for whether you wore a mask or whether you didn't,” said Fran Rabinowitz, Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents executive director.

But not every family is ready to let go of masks just yet.

“There were more students wearing masks, even when they were optional than we expected,” said Rabinowitz.

Some districts still require them including Hartford and New Haven, as well as Hamden where a protest took place last week calling for change.

Most of the kids in Cabrera’s class still wore their masks, and she said she knew their importance, especially when Covid was spreading quickly.

“It felt so secure, and if you didn’t do it, you feel scared, and you feel like you’re going to get Covid. But now that there are vaccinations, I understand why children don’t want to wear their masks,” said Cabrera.

The Superintendents Association said districts haven’t reported seeing an increase in kids calling out sick yet amid concerns unmasking could lead to more Covid cases.

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