Four Beecher Road School parents addressed the local Board of Education at its September 20th meeting on the issue of the mask mandate, some of whom were asking the board to reconsider the mask policy, which requires anyone in the building – both students and teachers – to wear a mask. Students also are required to wear a mask on the bus.
At this point there is no approved Covid 19 vaccine for children under the age of 12, so the prevention strategies involve wearing of masks and social distancing as much as feasible. The school has seen four cases of Covid 19 during the first three weeks of operation, each of which required quarantining of anywhere between 18 and 30 persons.
School Supt. Dr. Jonathan Budd said it seemed that the cases were contracted outside of the school community, and had not spread inside the school.
Dan Cowan, a former board member who has been vocal on this issue, suggested during the public comment portion of the meeting that the board should conduct a survey to find out where parents stand on this issue. He referred to a letter to the board from a fellow parent, Josh Gelder, in which Gelder claimed the wearing of masks was proven ineffective.
“I feel that this is a major, unnecessary requirement for children, especially considering the extremely low transmission rate among their age group,” Gelder wrote. He also addressed the board during its virtual meeting, saying his son asked him why he had to wear a mask. “I couldn’t give him an answer,” he said.
The comments prompted Board member Jeff Hughes to suggest adding a Covid-19 discussion to the agenda. However, Erin Williamson cautioned fellow board members to start an impromptu discussion, saying a lot of parents would be tuning in if they knew that the board was discussing this controversial issue. The board agreed, and voted to add a Corona-related conversation to the October agenda.
Dr. Budd said the district’s policy is following the Governor’s executive order, which expires at the end of September. At the time, it was not clear whether the Legislature would extend the Governor’s emergency powers and what that would mean for the local district.
“Right now, it’s the mandate we have to adhere to,” Dr. Budd said. He said if the state grants local discretion, then the Woodbridge Board of Education will have that conversation about masks, but should the state continue to require masking, it would not be part of the discussion.
Gelder, a father of two at Beecher Road School, said his son did not want to go back to school after he found out that he would have to wear a mask the whole day. When he addressed the board, he said although he is not completely against wearing masks, he opposes mandating it. Parents should have the right to make medical decisions for their children, he said, adding “forcing a child to wear a mask is a medical decision.”
In his letter, he challenged the board to “stand up and be advocates for our children and to push back against unsound medical mandates from our state…Our kids are forced to wear masks at school while adults are able to pack stadiums, go to restaurants, and go shopping in the State of CT without masks.”
Parent Allyson Valsamis disagreed with that stance. She said decisions should be made by public health departments, not by parents. She said Gelder’s e-mail purports that there is no evidence for mask efficacy, while in fact, more than 100 studies show the opposite.
As of September 16, children made up more than 25% of Covid cases, she said. If the school did not have a mask mandate it would have to offer remote learning, but “remote learning is not on the table. I find it exhausting that we’re still allowing discussion whether our children should be wearing a mask, when we’ve had four positive cases in three weeks,” she said.
Parent Kristen Turcosz added another angle to the conversation. She said she complained to the administration that her children had overheard teachers in the hallways talking about their vaccination status, which Turcosz felt was inappropriate. Many families have religious objections to vaccination, she said, and a lot of families will choose not to get the vaccine for their children right away. “Indoctrination is not education,” she said, adding “I don’t want my children exposed to that kind of language.”
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent