Outraged parents are demanding answers after their children were banned from classrooms in Deerfield Community School Friday over a last-minute mask mandate that they say was imposed improperly and with little notice. Now the school is warning parents students who refuse to wear masks on Monday will be sent home.
The school board changed the masking requirement on Wednesday, making the use of facemasks universal for all students and staff in the school, which serves kindergarten through 8th grade. Parents were told of the change on Thursday and the new policy went into effect on Friday.
Bobby-Ann Dostie said her two children refused to wear the masks on the first day of the new mandate. Both were placed in the school gym for the entire school day.
“We should be allowed to have our children in school,” Dottie said. “I pay my taxes, my kids should be in school.”
Dostie’s children and about one dozen others refused to wear masks when they went to school Friday. She said the school cannot mandate masks, or anything else.
“All they (the children) are doing is standing up for their American rights as U.S. citizens,” she said.
Dostie said she’s opposed to the school even requiring something neutral, like a dress code.
Alline Jurewicz is part of a parent group working to repeal the mask mandate. She said her children cannot learn if they have to wear a mask.
“My kids have a hard time breathing with masks and to wear the mask all day, they didn’t want to do it,” she said.
Unmasked students were allowed to learn on the stage area of the gymnasium on Friday where they were kept segregated from the other students. That will not be the case on Monday, according to an email obtained by NHJournal.
“On Monday, the stage accommodation will not be available to students whose parents do not want them to wear a mask. If a student does not wear a mask, they will have to be picked up and brought home,” Assistant Principal Brian Grieve wrote to one parent. “The mask mandate was voted on by the school board and was not a decision made by administration [sic].”
Reached by NHJournal, school board chair Zachary Langloism declined to comment, instead referring the matter to Superintendent Patty Sherman. Sherman also refused to respond to questions about her actions or the board’s decision.
The school adopted a masking matrix at the start of the school year that would have limited the use of masks, based on outbreaks within the school community. To date, there have been zero reported cases in the school, according to the district’s COVID data.
School board member Jeff Kelley, speaking during the Wednesday meeting, said based on the new Centers for Disease Control criteria, Deerfield has a high rate of transmission, and masking ought to be used in schools.
“There is still a virus out there and it can spread like wildfire,” he said during the meeting.
The overall statewide transition is at a five percent test positivity rate, considered substantial by health experts. In Rockingham County, the test positivity rate is six percent. In Deerfield, there were 14 active cases on Wednesday out of 4,800 residents — a rate of 0.3 percent.
School board member Gigi Klipa didn’t want to support the mask mandate but said the rising cases from the delta variant pushed her to support the change.
“It breaks my heart in some ways. I know it is a difficult decision. But there is no data I see that shows the variant is going down,” she said Wednesday.
The mask rule requires all students, staff, and visitors to wear face coverings indoors at the school. The mandate will be revisited at the coming Oct. 6 board meeting, and subsequent meetings, until cases in the community start to drop.
Grieve indicated the new mask mandate is not popular with administrators in the school.
“Unfortunately, our morning has been dealing with this event when our resources could be used for more productive work. If you have an issue with the mandate, please reach out to the school board members and/or attend the school board meeting on October 6th.”
In New Hampshire, since the start of the pandemic, children from birth to nine years old account for 6.2 percent of all COVID-19 cases, or 7,102 out of 114,332 cases. Children 10 to 19 account for 14,522, or 12.7 percent of the cases. There have been no deaths of children reported in New Hampshire and there have been 30 hospitalizations in children from birth through 19 since the start of the pandemic, or 1.7 percent of the state’s 1,750 hospitalizations.
Neither Dostie nor Jurewicz believe masks are effective for children. “I’ve done a lot of research, and I have a lot of family and friends in the medical field. Cloth masks are only 10 percent effective,” she said.
According to respected public health experts, data on masks mandates for schoolchildren is inconclusive.
Both Dostie and Jurewicz say they have not gotten any COVID-19 vaccine. Dostie said she does not trust the science behind the vaccine and will not get a shot. Jurewicz is uneasy with the newness of the vaccine.
“We just wanted to wait, we’re not an anti-vaccine family,” Jurewicz said. “We get all the other vaccines, just not the vaccine that just came out a couple of months ago.”
The Pfizer-BioNTec vaccine received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration last month for people starting at age 12. Other vaccines, like the Moderna Vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, have been administered since the start of the year under an emergency use authorization from the FDA.