BELMONT – Classes will start with masked faces today, following a special meeting of the Union’s Local Education Council on Monday to review COVID-19 policies during the pandemic resurgence, fueled by the delta variant more contagious.
The meeting lasted nearly three hours. After a closed-door session, the vote to impose masks was unanimous, specifying that all students, staff and visitors would be required to wear masks on school grounds from now. This does not extend to sporting events and activities, although masks are recommended by the council under all circumstances.
Just before the start of the school year, the board decided to make masking optional.
Board member Dan Lucas, who had opposed mask mandates, said the new policy will be reassessed at the next meeting on September 16 at 6 p.m. when the board takes stock. on workload and other preventive factors.
All of the board members and the majority of the audience agreed that face-to-face instruction is optimal for paying attention to students.
Board member Ed Stenger also noted that internet service is substandard in much of the district, making virtual learning less effective.
“I don’t want masks, but we may have to have them, because I refuse to go virtual”, Stenger said before the vote.
Board member Dr Shaun Roe, doctor, described the peak of cases in the first eight days of school. The Union local has previously missed a football game due to the opposing school’s COVID-19 issues. He said the board couldn’t compare current rates with last year because quarantine guidelines were more stringent then.
As of Monday, there were 17 positive elementary students and staff and 108 quarantined students. There were six middle school students with positive cases and 42 in quarantine. In high school, five students had tested positive and 73 were in quarantine.
An unvaccinated person who has been in contact with an HIV-positive person should self-quarantine for 10 days.
Roe added that although the delta variant is more contagious, the symptoms don’t seem to be worse.
“You get sick faster with a higher viral load and it becomes more transmissible”, Roe said.
In addition, members also pointed out that, unlike last year, there have been cases of transmission of the virus inside classrooms rather than the outside community.
Nearly 50 parents, teachers, staff, nurses and administrators attended the meeting in the college auditorium to voice their opinions, some in favor of a mask mandate and others against.
Some noted the higher workload in elementary school. Local Lawyer Gary Smith
said the district could not discriminate as to who would or would not be subject to the mask warrant.
There were several moving speeches. A secretary recounted an incident where she was able to detect that a student was in distress and needed help by observing the student’s face. Another staff member countered that meant the district would have to take precautions, including a mask warrant to continue teaching face-to-face.
Other teachers and parents have raised concerns about mental health issues in young children caused by blockages and the inability to see faces.
A growing number of guests have pointed out that a lack of space has resulted in an inability to socially distance oneself during lunch times, which may have exacerbated the spread regardless of the masking. A first grade teacher recounted the difficulties of working with very young children. A bus driver added that it was impossible to enforce the mask mandate on school buses by looking in a rearview mirror and said many children did not wear masks on the bus.
In response to a question from a guest about the policies of other school districts, board member Terry Puperi criticized the other districts he did not name for not sharing information adequately. . He said the leaders of the local would assess the situation and act in what appears to be the best interest of the district and its residents.
Roe responded to questions about the effectiveness of masks, saying that while high-quality masks have limited effectiveness, they are not useless.
Devin Roberson, father of a ninth grader, asked about the types of COVID tests used and whether they might detect cases of the flu instead. Discussions focused on the different types of tests that explicitly detect COVID-19 and the likelihood of false positives, which Roe said were rare.
“How many cases are false positives that don’t really have it?” Do we know? “ Alan Wood, a parent, asked.
Council members acknowledged that due to quarantine requirements, many students who were likely not infected had to be quarantined for 10 days.
School board candidate David Taylor of Morristown said responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have been extreme and damaging.
“The worst thing that is happening with COVID is our impact on our own society, the impact on our children”, he said. “What we’re forcing our children and families through is the worst impact nationwide, and we’re about to do it again.”
Several guests got up and left shortly after the council vote.