PETERBOROUGH — Several parents spoke out Tuesday night against the mask requirement included in the ConVal School Board’s reopening plan.
Last week, the board voted to begin the school year with masks required indoors as part of the district’s “green phase” of its reopening framework.
The first day of classes is scheduled for Aug. 31, and at Tuesday’s meeting at the S.A.U. ConVal District office, school officials provided more details about the reopening plan.
Once a community school has verified that 80 percent of students and staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19, any indoor mask requirement in place at the time would end, according to Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders.
ConVal’s reopening plan consists of four phases, to be applied depending on the level of COVID-19 transmission within the district’s nine towns: Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple. Earlier this month, the board said it expected to begin the school year in the “blue phase,” which corresponds with the lowest level of transmission and doesn’t require that students or staff wear masks.
ConVal schools would transition from a blue to green phase if new cases over the previous 14 days per 100,000 across the Greater Monadnock Public Health Region are greater than 100 and less than 500, or the positivity rate is greater than 10 percent and less than 50 percent.
A transition from green to yellow would happen if the number of cases per 100,000 people exceeded 500 or the positivity rate was greater than 50 percent.
Finally, schools would transition from a yellow to red phase by action of the board, an executive order from the governor, or if the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services determines there is a cluster at a school.
With the delta variant driving COVID-19 cases up, debates over school masking requirements are happening across the country.
Tuesday’s meeting in Peterborough began with a public comment session, during which people were allowed two minutes each to express their thoughts. Many attendees spoke out against the mask requirement and expressed concern over students’ mental health.
“At worst, we are damaging these kids by handicapping their ability to connect with their peers, to interpret both verbal and nonverbal cues,” said an attendee who declined to give a reporter her full name.
“This is no way to live and certainly no way to experience childhood,” she added.
Some people felt decisions on masks should be left up to families.
“As parents, we can direct what’s best for our children, for the best education that they deserve in our district,” said Ross Kukish of Peterborough, who has three kids in the district.
Of the nine attendees who spoke during the public comment session, only one expressed support for the mask requirement.
Pediatricians Dr. Suzanne Schoel and Dr. Lara Niemela, who are both on the district’s COVID monitoring team, answered questions from the board about how to verify when a school has reached the 80 percent vaccination threshold and what their opinions on masking are.
They responded that vaccination cards will be adequate for verifying how many students and staff have been vaccinated and said masking is still important.
“The new delta variant is transmissible to everyone including those with the vaccine — although you get less sick with it — but it’s really becoming much more of a problem, and we are universally recommending that people mask,” Schoel said.