Letter from Robert W. Hill on Masking Policies

Dear Williston Families,

As we complete our first trimester at Williston Northampton—one filled with tremendous achievement and success—I write with an update on Williston’s COVID-19 policies. Beginning with our return from Thanksgiving break, mask wearing will no longer be required in classrooms, but instead will be up to the discretion of the individual classroom teacher. Some students may choose to wear masks in all of their classes, and some teachers may require that masking continues in their classrooms, both of which will be fully supported by the school. The comprehensive masking policy, however, will be optional.

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 winter colds and flu. Also, any 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 unless local mask mandates change.

There are many factors that have led to this decision. The remarkable effectiveness of the vaccination has been borne out by scientific data, and our community now has a 98.7 percent vaccination rate, with many Williston adults already having received a booster. In addition, on November 1, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts adjusted the indoor mask mandate for schools that have a greater than 80 percent vaccination rate. For further context, a number of our peer schools, who had no masks throughout the fall, have reported no issues, and many other Massachusetts peer schools have already lifted their mask mandates as of November 1. All of these factors have made us feel comfortable in taking this next step, and we will continue to monitor the policies of many other independent schools and colleges as we move forward.

In addition, Williston will also be adjusting our testing policy to align with current CDC guidance—using diagnostic testing for any symptomatic individuals and screening testing only for any unvaccinated individuals. We have all learned a great deal about health and virology in what history will record as one of the most significant societal upheavals in generations. We have learned more about general hygiene, the importance of staying home or reporting to health services when not feeling well, and the collective power of coming together for a common purpose. I urge everyone to follow their physician’s advice when it comes to getting a COVID-19 vaccination booster shot, getting their annual flu shot, and maintaining the heightened hygienic practices that mitigate against the common cold and other illnesses.

I recognize that after more than a year of mandatory mask-wearing, it may feel strange for us to return from break with optional masking. I want to reiterate that we stand ready to make adjustments to all of these policies should situations dictate, but believe that all evidence points to a safe unmasked return.

With this note comes my best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday just ahead and a safe return for the start of the second trimester.

Best wishes,
Robert W. Hill III, P’15, ’19
Head of School