A Newmarket school principal says students who are not properly masked will face detention and possible suspension under his new mandate. And he has an unusual suggestion for parents who object to the new policy.

Try school choice.

In a letter to parents announcing the new rules, Newmarket Junior-Senior High Principal David Dalton said the Omicron surge “has had a significant impact on our student and staff attendance. We are working to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 for our school community so that we can continue to provide in-person instruction.”

The new policy was first reported by Seacoastonline.com.

“Beginning on Monday, January 24th, students who are not able to comply with mask requirements will receive one reminder before being sent to a counseling room for the remainder of the class period, followed by an after-school detention,” Dalton wrote.

If students continue to go maskless, they will face in-school suspension. As for parents who object, “We recognize that there are some who oppose the wearing of masks in schools. In order to better meet the needs of these families, the New Hampshire Department of Education continues to provide alternative options for learning that can take place in the home through (Virtual Learning Academy Charter School) enrollment,” Dalton wrote.

VLACS is a privately-run, non-profit charter school. Urging parents to pull their students out of the school and switch to a charter school is an unusual move for a public school administrator.

Supporters of school choice were quick to note the principal’s endorsement.

“The Newmarket school principal got one thing right: families who aren’t satisfied with their assigned school’s policies or performance should exercise school choice,” said Jason Bedrick, Policy Director at EdChoice. “Fortunately, New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Accounts empower families with the freedom and flexibility to choose a private school or even to customize their child’s education.”

Dalton also raised eyebrows by claiming it is possible for Newmarket to achieve “zero COVID,” a strategy that has been rejected by most public health professionals.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been implementing recommendations and protocols which, if followed with fidelity, increase the likelihood that we will reduce or even possibly eliminate transmission of the virus within the school.”

The CDC, the World Health Organization, and numerous other public health organizations have repeatedly reported “eliminating transmission” of the virus — particularly the Omicron variant — is not possible.

In addition, Newmarket’s increase in sanctions over mask-wearing runs counter to the most current data showing cloth masks have little to no effect on the spread of the Omicron variant. Data throughout the pandemic show schools are not vectors of transmission and young people are at the lowest risk of any age group from the impacts of the virus.

The New Hampshire public school system lost about 8,000 students last year, and if administrators continue the harsh enforcement policies of Newmarket and Derry, that trend is likely to continue.

And, says Kate Baker Demers, Executive Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund NH, the state has made that easy to do.

“VLACS is a great education option for families that want online instruction. If a family of a child who has been relegated to in-school suspension is in need of in-person instruction, the state of New Hampshire has created a new Education Freedom Accounts (EFA) program to help New Hampshire children in need.

“New Hampshire families earning up to 300 percent of the poverty line can direct part of their child’s state education funding to pay for tuition at the school of their choice, tutoring, educational supplies, and for other educational expenses,” Demers said.

To apply for an Education Freedom Account, families can go to: https://nh.scholarshipfund.org/apply/nh-education-freedom-accounts/