Bow-Dunbarton schools adopt mask mandate

  • Students return to their classrooms after a lunch period at Bow Elementary School in Bow on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 8/22/2021 5:03:10 PM

Bow and Dunbarton are the latest school districts to finalize their reopening plan, opting to reopen fully in person with masks required for younger students and masks optional for high schoolers.

The Bow-Dunbarton SAU school board voted to adopt an amended opening plan that has safety protocols for three levels of COVID-19 risk, categorized as blue, green and yellow. School will open in “green” status, the intermediate level of risk, which mandates masks indoors for students in grades pre-K to 8, 3-feet distancing and remote options for meetings when feasible.

“The way I see it is, how many layers of protection do we have against this thing that’s going to stick around for a while?” said board member Martin Osterloh of Bow. “I think the elementary school is pretty straightforward because there is no vaccine available to any students. Knowing that I can give defense mechanisms to those students via masks, I am strongly in favor of universal masking at the elementary school.”

Board members decided masks would be optional for students in grades 9 to 12, who are old enough to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, students in grades 7 and 8 are permitted to remove masks inside their classrooms if everyone in the room is 12 or older. A COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been approved for children under age 12.

Bow and Dunbarton will return fully in-person five days a week. Any remote options will be via alternative programs like VLACS or Edgenuity. The district will also be offering micro-school learning pods run by Prenda for the first time this year, funded by the NH Department of Education.

Some community members who made public comment argued against any mandatory masks, saying it should be a parent’s decision.

“At some point it is a family decision, it’s a decision made around your kitchen table,” said board chair Jenna Reardon of Bow. “I don’t think it’s our job to put our foot in it at some point, but that point has to be when every family has had the opportunity to protect their child with the best frontline defense right now that we have, which is the vaccination. The second-best line of defense we have is a mask.”

Masks will be required on school buses, due to a mask order from the Centers for Disease Control that applies to all public transportation nationwide.

Superintendent Dean Cascadden will be the one to make the decision to switch between status levels, with advice from school board members and a Concord Hospital infectious disease expert. The decision will be based on federal or state guidance, community spread of COVID-19 or positive cases within the schools.

“The one thing I’ve learned over the last couple of years during COVID are that you can make all the plans you want, you may have to scrap them if the environment changes,” Cascadden said.

The Bow-Dunbarton SAU Board will revisit the plan on Sept. 16.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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