Mask debate heats up at board meeting

Kay Lyman addresses the New Plymouth School District board of trustees on Monday, asking them to consider making masks optional. Lyman said her children reported experiencing anxiety due to the district’s mask requirement.

NEW PLYMOUTH - A full complement of parents, teachers and students attended the first New Plymouth School District board meeting to take place in the new district offices on Monday, Oct. 19. During the patron input portion of this meeting, several parents addressed the board on the topic of masks, and whether their use should continue to be required in New Plymouth schools as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Following are samples of parents’ remarks on the topic.

Kay Lyman argued that the decision of whether students should wear masks should be left up to parents to decide, noting that her five children have reported some anxiety as a result of the requirement.

“My seventh-grader … the first week of school he said, ‘Mama, I miss the smiles,” said Lyman. “They need that social ability … to see each other, without the masks. As a parent, I feel like I have that right as a parent to be able to have that choice to make for them when they go to school to wear a mask.”

Lyman noted that school districts in Marsing, Homedale and Parma don’t have mask mandates.

Mike Wherry, a nurse and assistant varsity basketball coach at New Plymouth High, cited research published by magazines in the northeast U.S and Germany as part of his his argument against the mask requirement.

“It [the virus] is one thousand times smaller than a hair, itself” said Wherry. “A study that was posted in The Atlantic [magazine] looked at over 200,000 children in 47 states. The conclusion is that kids rarely get ill and they do not spread the virus to at-risk adults.”

Wherry compared the current use of masks to trying to stop mosquitos with a chain-link fence.

However, it noteworthy that the majority of medical experts and the Centers for Disease Control continue to recommend wearing masks in public settings as they have been shown to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Christy Norris, a teacher at New Plymouth Elementary, countered that masks should continue to be required, as she has noted they’ve likely prevented widespread outbreaks on campus.

“This is cold and flu season starting, and as far as the national news … this is going to be the most difficult time for COVID in our country at this time, because of cold and flu season,” said Norris. “Some of us have elderly parents, grandparents, family members who are immune-compromised. To not have children wearing masks in the classroom during the day puts our family members at risk. All the teachers that I know of have designated areas in their classrooms where they can take off their masks because they’ll be away from each other.”

Norris said Monday was the first time a possible case was reported to the school, eight weeks into the school year.

“I think that’s a testament to us having their masks,” she said. “Other districts that haven’t been doing that have had to close down. We as teachers want to be in the classroom.”

During principals’ reports, these site leaders noted that while masks are helping keep kids at school, they do have a few drawbacks.

Sean King, principal of New Plymouth Elementary, noted that reusable masks aren’t really the most sanitary option for his students.

“They’re gross,” said King. “If you watch those little guys sneeze, you know they’re loading that thing up. You just know it.”

King notes that the school has a supply of disposable masks available to help alleviate this issue.

Joe Hally, principal of New Plymouth Middle, notes that students and staff can take masks off if sufficient space is available, and circumstances allow.

“One thing new this year is that we have two breaks in addition to lunch break, to allow kids to go outside. We’ve seen a positive impact,” said Hally.

At New Plymouth High, principal Dan Hull said breaks have been extended to allow students to momentarily remove masks throughout the day.

“We’re not perfect by any means, no way shape or form, but the majority of our students wear a mask and do the best they can.”

Hull added that the school goes through at least a 48-pack of masks daily, to supply students who forgot one or need a replacement.

Board Chairman Marc Haws clarified that the board makes its decisions on this matter in consultation with Southwest District Health.

“I don’t want any doubt as to who makes the decision … that’s the responsibility of this board,” Haws noted. “We have not abdicated that to anybody else, to any other boards, not to the health department or anybody else. That is a decision for this board and that’s how intended under state law right now, is that that power resides with us and we will make that decision.”

This not being an action item, the board took no action during this meeting. Haws said the matter would likely be revisited at future board meetings.

“We appreciate the input from the community,” he said.

The district is presently operating at level one of its leveled operation plan, with all students attending school on a regular schedule.

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