The virus is out there, and requiring face masks in the Ridgefield Public Schools is a policy the Board of Education wants to get right.

The wearing of a mask or “appropriate face covering” would be required not only in all school buildings and buses under a new “temporary policy” under development for the COVID-19 era, but also of people “participating in or attending school sponsored activities … whether or not those activities occur in a school building.”

A first draft of a mask policy was presented to the school board Sept. 29, along with amendments to three other current policies — policies concerning employee drug use, food service operations, and students with food allergies.

The mask policy will be going back to a subcommittee for further refinement, according to Superintendent of Schools Susie Da Silva.

As put forward by the subcommittee for a first look by the board, the masks policy would require people trying to enter school facilities without masks to be provided with them. People who refuse to wear masks would not be allowed in school facilities, under the proposed policy.

It was the wording requiring masks for school-sponsored activities “whether or not those activities occur in a school building” that became a focus of discussion Tuesday, Sept. 29, when the Board of Education reviewed the draft of the policy that came out of the policy subcommittee.

Board member Liz Floegel wanted to be sure that the wording wouldn’t lead to the policy being interpreted too broadly. While it was clear that the proposed policy would apply in schools, on buses, and at events like athletic contests, she wanted to be sure the mask requirement wouldn’t also be interpreted to apply to students doing “remote learning” from their homes.

She said she’d seen headlines about people being required to wear masks at home.

“I’d recommend that individuals that are remote learning are not covered by this,” she said.

“The policy says ‘in school,’ ” said board chairwoman Margaret Stamatis.

“It also says ‘school-sponsored activities,’” said Floegel. “... I just wanted to be sure private residences are excluded from our policies.”

“Perhaps the attorneys have some suggested language that isn’t too broad,” Stamatis offered.

Superintendent Da Silva noted that the whole realm of operating schools and other public venues amid the COVID-19 pandemic was one where federal recommendations and state guidelines, following the science, changed frequently.

“They’re evolving all the time,” she said.

Palliative pot

The revised drug policy includes an addition of language that “specifically prohibits the palliative use of marijuana on school property, at school-sponsored activity, or during the conduct of Board business, and specifically prohibits employees from being under the influence of intoxicating substances, including marijuana used for palliative purposes, during work hours.”

The amendments to the drug use language also “prohibits smoking, including smoking using an electronic nicotine delivery system (e.g. e-cigarettes) or vapor product, and the use of tobacco products on school property…”

Food allergies

The proposed policy revisions also include a seven-page package of on “life-threatening food allergies, diabetes and/or glycogen storage disease.”

Another amendment under consideration by the board would “establish standards of conduct covering real or apparent conflicts of interest and governing the actions of Board employees engaged in the selection, award, and/or administration of contracts expending School Nutrition Program funds on goods and/or services.”

Having gotten their first reading by the board, the policy amendments will be up for discussion and possible further amendment or adoption at the board’s next regular meeting, scheduled for Oct. 13.

Mask wording

The draft of the proposed temporary policy on masks and face coverings that the board reviewed on Sept. 29 says:

“The Ridgefield Board of Education (the ‘Board’) recognizes the importance of protecting the health and safety of students, staff, and the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, and in accordance with requirements and guidelines issued by the Connecticut State Department of Education (“SDE”), the Board requires that all individuals entering a school building, a Ridgefield Public Schools (“District”) facility, or a District transportation vehicle wear an appropriate face covering.

“An appropriate face covering shall consist of a cloth mask or disposable procedure-style mask that completely covers the individual’s nose and mouth.

“An appropriate face covering shall not include neck gaiters, bandanas or exhalation valve masks.

“Any individual who presents for entrance into a school building, District facility or District transportation vehicle who is not wearing an appropriate face covering shall be provided an appropriate face covering by the District.

“Compliance with this policy shall be mandatory for all individuals while in a school building, District facility and/or District transportation vehicle, unless an applicable exception applies.

“Any individual who refuses to wear an appropriate face covering at all times while in a school building, District facility or District transportation vehicle shall be denied admission and/or required to leave the premises, unless an applicable exception applies.

“In addition, failure to comply with this policy may lead to disciplinary action for students and staff, and exclusion from school property for members of the community, in accordance with applicable laws, rules, regulations, and/or Board policies.

“All individuals participating in or attending any school-sponsored activities must wear an appropriate face covering, whether or not those activities occur in a school building, District facility or District transportation vehicle, unless an applicable exception applies or the Administration, in consultation with the local health department, determines that face coverings are not required for athletes participating in certain athletic activities.

“The Board authorizes the Superintendent or designee to develop administrative regulations and/or protocols to implement this policy. Such administrative regulations and/or protocols shall outline authorized exceptions to the requirement that all individuals wear an appropriate face covering in the school buildings, District facilities and District transportation vehicles and may identify additional face covering rules as related to the safe operation of the school community.”