Norristown Area School District requiring masks for new school year

Roughly 100 kindergarteners in the school district will start their "boot camp" program Monday.

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Monday, August 9, 2021
Students wear masks for first day at Norristown Area School District
Masks are required as the school year begins at Norristown Area School District.

NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Students, teachers, staff and visitors will be required to wear a mask in the Norristown Area School District as the first set of kindergarteners and some athletes return to campuses on Monday.

The Norristown Area School District is in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, which is Philadelphia's largest suburban county.

School district leaders across the county have the choice of deciding what their mask policy will be and are using the rest of the month to finalize plans before the start of school.

The Montgomery County Health Department recently adjusted its guidelines to recommend masks for students and teachers in classrooms.

That recommendation falls in line with what the CDC is suggesting.

RELATED: Governor Wolf's administration will not recommend new statewide mask mandate

Norristown Area Schools Superintendent Christopher Dormer said he made the decision to take it a step further and require masks because he believes it's the best approach, especially with the vaccines not being eligible for younger children.

"For students and parents, it probably is a little terrifying to know that layer of protection (the vaccine), if you're under 12, is not even available to you. So to me, having a mask and trying to keep students socially distant to the greatest distance feasible, it was an easy decision to say this was the right thing to do," Dormer said.

Roughly 100 kindergarteners in the school district started their "boot camp" program Monday at Musselman Learning Center, three weeks before the official start of school to get accustomed to coming back to the classroom.

"Striking that balance is really important to us. Again, I'm not going to risk anyone's life to try to force them back into school when we can do things like masks, keeping them separated, and still right now where transmission is, still giving them a mask break at recess time to get out and do those things," Dormer said.

RELATED: Montgomery County recommends universal masking in schools for 2021-2022 school year

Dormer said they're in a large urban district with older buildings where they have to make the most of the space as students return for in-person learning five days a week.

Dormer said he is working with the Montgomery County Health Department and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to do rapid COVID-19 testing in schools.

"We want to have a mechanism, so when we see those very mild, early indicators - coughing, shortness of breath and all those things - we can rapid test a student, staff member and, with good certainty, in 15 minutes, know if it's a COVID infection or not," Dormer said.

Dormer also said that over the next few weeks, crews will be working to install touchless bathroom fixtures to help reduce spread in heavily used areas.