HINSDALE, N.H. — The members of the Hinsdale School Board all said at a meeting Tuesday they would vote for a mask mandate when school starts on Aug. 31. However, they delayed the vote until next Tuesday after they expressed disappointment over the reopening plan presented by school administrators.
“This is so vague,” said board member Julia Kilelee. “I am not comfortable approving this ...”
Kilelee and other board members expressed frustration that they had received the reopening plan just 10 days before the start of school.
“If you present a plan that has so much room for interpretation we are asking for all kinds of problems,” said Kilelee.
“If it came to a vote,” said Chairman Sean Leary, “my vote would be a ‘No.’ There’s not enough information.”
Lacking in the plan, noted the board members, is clear guidance on what happens to students exposed to COVID-19 or if a student contracts the virus.
“We would follow [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines,” said Superintendent Wayne Woolridge.
And even though the state government has insisted schools reopen to all students and not offer a remote option, board member Holly Kennedy said some sort of mention of what might happen if changes to guidance should be in the reopening plan.
“Last March we approved a trigger number in the plan when to go remote,” she said. “Do we need to come up with a new trigger number?”
“We would need time to put that together,” said Woolridge.
Board members also noted there are no clear guidelines for physical distancing, especially during lunch.
Ann Freitag, principal of the middle/high school, said the school has “a toolkit” that was developed last year in its “back pocket,” though she admitted the details of the toolkit are not in the reopening plan.
“Something like that needs to be spelled out,” said board member Holly Kennedy.
The School Board scheduled a follow-up meeting for Tuesday at 6 p.m., to review a more detailed plan and to officially vote on the mask mandate.
The board accepted a petition that included 150 signatures of people opposed to a mask mandate. They were also told by Jay and Sarah Kolakoski, who organized the petition, that another 80 people had signed an online petition.
Sarah Kolakoski asked if the board can order her children to wear masks, “Can I dictate what you shovel into your kids’ mouths?”
Kolakoski, who is a speech-language pathologist said she has witnessed children in elementary schools treating their masks with disregard, dropping them on floors and carrying toys in their mouths. She also noted that masks hide facial expressions that are crucial for communication.
“This is ridiculous,” said Wayne Dingman Jr. “You guys don’t need to tell us how to care for our children.”
But most of the people who spoke via the internet favored a mask mandate, including Paula Snide, a kindergarten teacher at Hinsdale Elementary.
“My kids did not even think about the masks,” she said. “It was part of their daily routine. They didn’t complain. They just wore their masks.”
Woolridge said the administration recommends the board vote in favor of a mask mandate, especially considering a jump in the positivity rate in Cheshire County, which quickly went from 4.1 percent to 8 percent, which is higher than the state average.
The federal government mandates masks on buses, noted Woolridge, who said the face coverings wouldn’t be required for outdoor athletic activities and on the school playground.
Visitors coming into the school, including parents, will have to wear masks, said Woolridge.
Leary said he had reviewed comments submitted to the school board and found that the split was 50/50 for and against a mask mandate.
“Which means, whatever decision we come to, half will be satisfied and half will be extremely mad,” he said.
He also noted that some folks submitting comments said if masks are mandated, they will pull their kids out of the schools; others said the opposite, that if masks were not mandated, they would pull their kids out.
Leary, who said he was personally opposed to a mask mandate, said he would vote in favor because he is responsible for the students, teachers and staff and the community.
He said many of the comments he received stated wearing masks should be the choice of the parents.
“It seems so reasonable that parents should be able to choose,” he said. “But they’re not just choosing for their kids. They’re choosing for every single person their kids come in contact with.”