At Monday’s Valley Central School District Board of Education meeting, parents and students voiced their objections to the district’s new directives regarding mask wearing.
The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) updated their guidance on mask-wearing in schools. As of June 7, facemasks are not required to be worn outdoors on school grounds, including during outdoor school sports. No student, teacher, staff member or visitor may be prevented from wearing an acceptable facemask voluntarily on school grounds.
However, indoor mask requirements have not changed. These guidelines include while students are being transported by bus.
Although the indoor mask requirements have not changed, Valley Central has put several new procedures in place. Teachers will continue to allow frequent mask breaks, as much as needed, when students are six feet apart. Faculty and staff may do the same. Students will be physically distanced as much as possible to allow for these frequent mask breaks. Teachers will continue to engage in outdoor learning opportunities as much as possible in order to provide students with more time when they can go without a mask.
Amy Rossi, a parent in the district, feels that the wearing of masks in school is unnecessary.
“The pandemic is over,” she said during the public comment session at Monday’s school board meeting. “Teachers who want to get vaccinated have access to the vaccine. The data proves over and over again that children are at low risk, not super spreaders and pretty much have a zero percent chance of catching COVID.”
She added that wearing masks has taken a huge toll on her children as the weather has become warmer. Her children have suffered, as none of the district’s schools have air conditioning. One of Rossi’s children is afraid to take off her mask in school to breathe for fear of getting in trouble. Wearing masks more than six hours a day in school has caused students to suffer from heat exhaustion, dehydration and the inability to focus. The masks have given Rossi’s children headaches, causing them to go to the doctor’s office. Multiple bus drivers in the district have even told Rossi that they are vomiting from wearing masks on buses whose temperatures exceed 100 degrees.
Rossi added that children learn from reading facial expressions, which is made difficult by wearing masks.
Rossi requested written data supporting a mask mandate in schools from the state department of health. The department stated that they do not have these records. This conflicts with an email Rossi received from Joseph Bond, president of the school board, that the department of health was well-equipped with scientific data necessary to create appropriate mask-wearing guidelines.
“This board of education needs to step up,” she said. “Ask for the science Mr. Bond. Don’t just say they [NYSDOH] have the science.”
In addition, Rossi asked the board of education to advocate to the state department of health on behalf of the students. Many of them are struggling, as they have to wear masks for more than six hours a day while sitting in classrooms that are not air conditions.
“Something is going to happen, that is my fear,” Rossi said to the board. “Something is going to happen to a student or students physically from what they are enduring from this mask and the heat and it’s gonna be on all of you. Each and every one of you is going to be held personally liable if something happens to a kid here.”
Kaylee Rossi, Amy’s daughter and a student at Valley Central Middle School, was also frustrated by the district’s new mask policy.
“We’re inside sitting in classrooms. You’re forcing masks on us six hours every single day, five days a week,” she said. “You’re sitting in there [central office] and you’re saying well we have the science but you’re not asking them [NYSDOH] if they do. I refuse to wear a mask in school. I’ve held out as much as I can.”
Kaylee added that children are getting bacterial infections from wearing their masks for long periods of time in the blazing heat. She also noted that students who are fully vaccinated should not have to wear masks.
“I don’t understand why as kids we have to go through this,” she said. “It’s been over a year and I’m done. I’ve told you guys, every one of you, here’s what I have to say and actually try. Advocate to the state and ask them what’s the science. Why do kids have to wear these?”
Jennifer Watson, a parent in the district, asked the board to be transparent regarding their communication with the NYSDOH on mask-wearing. She also hopes that the district will notify parents far in advance of the mask directive for the upcoming school year.
“I don’t want to find out on August 30 that my child has to wear a mask and they’re starting school on September 2,” she said. “Because then you give the parents like two days notice to make a plan, pull their kid out of school, try to find another school and it’s too late then.”
The district noted in an announcement on their website that they have read parents’ emails asking for the removal of masks. While they empathize with their concerns, they have to comply with the current regulations and guidance.
“The Valley Central School District understands your concerns in regards to the wearing of masks as the temperature during these last days of school begins to increase,” the district stated in an announcement on their website. “Mask requirements indoors are not a local decision and school districts are not at liberty to disregard directives from the NYS Department of Health and the NYS Education Department. We must work in collaboration with these agencies, our school medical director, our board of education and our district attorneys when considering any changes to protocol.