Letter from Head of School Robert W. Hill on new masking policy

Dear Williston Parents and Guardians,

As we finish off a beautiful February weekend on campus, I write with an update on Williston’s masking policy. Starting tomorrow, February 14, Williston will move to a mask-optional policy indoors. There are exceptions to this announcement: We will continue to wear masks during assemblies and other large gatherings—a measure which may also help ease the spread of colds and flu. Those few unvaccinated members of the community must continue to wear masks in all indoor spaces, as well as receive twice-weekly testing. We will also require Williston students and faculty to wear masks in town and locally, and visitors to campus (including families) will need to continue to mask until the town of Easthampton lifts its mandate.

We feel confident making this change now for a number of important reasons. Following the roller-coaster month of January, we are seeing the rapid decline of the omicron variant, as predicted by experts. Williston has just completed a ten-day period free of any positive student results, and there are currently no infected students isolating. A significant percentage of adults and students have already been infected and recovered, and we can reasonably assume that other community members may already have been asymptomatically infected without realizing it. We also know that our community is 99 percent vaccinated, with almost all adults and a majority of students having received a booster. All of that adds up to a community that has a significant virus protection. Additionally, a number of our peer schools—both more rural and less—were mask optional throughout the fall and reported minimal transmission issues. Those same schools and others have now already returned to mask optional policies.

Our policies have been informed by our own medical experts, outside medical advice, discussions with our peer schools, and consideration of our place in the larger Easthampton community. Williston has, throughout the pandemic, neither been ahead of our peers nor lagging behind them; we have made decisions that are right for our community at the given moment. As a former humanities teacher, I find it hard to fathom that for two years, teachers and students have not seen one another’s faces in the classroom. Moving to a mask optional posture will allow teachers to more fully engage and celebrate their students. I feel certain that this change will also be a huge boost to the emotional wellbeing of students who have endured a historic disruption in their lives. Even so, the school will be fully supportive of all students and teachers who choose to continue to wear masks for any reason whatsoever. Indeed, I suspect that we will see more precautionary voluntary masking in New England for years to come—Williston experienced very few instances of seasonal flu during the past two years!

I recognize that there are many strong opinions on this topic, but I feel confident that the time is now for Williston’s community to take this hard-won break from mandatory masking. Williston students and families deserve credit once again for managing the curveballs of the pandemic with grace and spirit, and I wish to thank everyone for their support of the school and ongoing patience. I also want to reiterate that we stand ready to make adjustments to all of these policies should situations dictate, but I believe that all evidence points to a safe unmasked remainder of the trimester.

Best wishes,

Robert W. Hill III
Head of School