FORT PLAIN – Parents spoke for and against requiring students to wear masks this school year during Wednesday’s Fort Plain school board meeting.
Though specific masking guidelines have not yet been detailed, Interim Superintendent of Schools Jeffery Ziegler said a mask requirement will be part of the district’s COVID mitigation plan so in-person instruction for all students can continue throughout school year.
Ziegler said the district is developing “a layered mitigation” and prevention approach to COVID that will involve masking and social distancing, facility cleaning and hygiene, contact tracing and quarantine, HVAC ventilation, provisions for food services, testing and vaccination access.
School re-opening efforts, he said, are being coordinated by Montgomery County school districts, Herkimer-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES, the Montgomery County Public Health Department and the state Department of Education.
The district also will remain apprised of potential mandates and guidance from the Governor’s Office.
“As a public institution, we must consider the safety of everyone in the community to minimize the risk for all,” Ziegler said. “By individually doing our part to keep everybody safe and healthy, we will ensure the academic, social and emotional growth of our students, as well as the safety of the community.”
The decision to implement masking as part of the mitigation effort did not sit well with some people in attendance.
“I would like to turn in notice of withdrawal for my three students,” said Casey Mykel, a Nelliston resident.
“It’s very discouraging because we should all be entitled to a free and public education,” Mykel said. “I am completely disgusted and appalled with the public school system and I am even more disgusted and appalled with the public and the community,” she said. She said many of the district’s teachers agree with her stance but “are not standing up” for their beliefs.
“I am all about medical freedom and I am all about a choice for a mask,” Mykel said. “I don’t get mad at somebody because they choose to wear a mask, and I shouldn’t be looked down upon because I choose not to wear a mask. I have an immune system, as well as my children do.”
Another resident, Val Lawson of Fort Plain, registered her disapproval as well, arguing that masks don’t work and are actually harmful for children.
She added that she thinks vaccines are ineffective and animals can spread the virus. “You can vaccinate until you’re blue in the face. This is not going to go away with a vaccine.
Resident Jordan Church said he supported student masking and noted that as soon as people become comfortable and regulations are relaxed, COVID numbers rise.
“I wonder why we wouldn’t just go as hard as we can on this” until the virus is eradicated, Church said. “If we stay in it longer then this whole thing can be over and we can all not wear masks anymore.
“It feels like the longer we take half measures against it, the longer it will be around. If we take it very seriously and we finish it, it will be done. It’s not like wearing a mask will hurt you. It’s not difficult to do.”
Fort Plain resident Kyra Romanello, the mother of a 6-year-old, also spoke in favor of masking and said her daughter has not experienced ill effects from mask-wearing.
“I am here tonight to implore you to protect the children, educators and families in our school district by implementing a full mandate for universal mask wearing during the 2021-2022 school year,” Romanello said.
“Due to the nature of COVID-19, an airborne infectious disease, universal masking is the minimum standard of safety that must be implemented.”
Her daughter, she said, “actually enjoys her fashion choices with them, and feels much more confident and safer in an environment where all individuals around her are fully masked.”
Romanello’s family opted to homeschool last year since no remote-only option was offered until March 2021, when they rejoined the school community. Her daughter has asked to continue homeschooling in the coming year if “there is not universal mask mandate.”
“I feel it would be irresponsible of me as a parent to push her into an environment where she does not feel safe,” Romanello said. “Public safety is not a matter of personal freedom. Individual freedom is not impinged upon by a mask mandate, the individual is not harmed physically in any way by wearing a mask.”
Ziegler said “the district recognizes the clear views on masking and vaccination that exist in the community, and there may be times of strong disagreement on implementation.”
The final opening plan, he said, “will be to make the safest choices for our students, staff and community at large, making it possible for all students to attend in-person instruction and avoid quarantine in the event of a positive case in the classroom.”
The school board did not address the comments made by residents Wednesday and adjourned the meeting following the public comment segment.