Concord students will return to school wearing masks

  • Abbot-Downing School students rush out of class during ealry release on Monday morning at 11:30 a.m. on June 7, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 8/3/2021 4:59:30 PM

Public school students will start the new school year wearing masks when classes resume next month, the Concord School Board decided Monday, citing rising rates of COVID-19 and no vaccines available for children under 12.

School board members voted 7-1 to require masks for students and employees indoors at school, starting in September. Board members said the rising rates of COVID cases, including the highly-contagious Delta variant, paired with the fact that children under 12 aren’t yet eligible for vaccines, indicates that masks are still needed in schools. This summer, masks have been optional both indoors and outdoors at Concord schools.

“Elementary school age children and middle school kids don’t have the option to be vaccinated. Once they do, I think we’re into the personal choice debate and people can choose to be vaccinated or not be vaccinated,” said board member Pamela Walsh. “Right now, children under 12 and their parents don’t have the opportunity to make that decision.”

Masks will only be mandatory inside of Concord schools, not outdoors. They will also be required on school buses, because of a mask order from the CDC that applies to all public transportation nationwide.

The School Board decided that the indoor mask requirement will remain in place until either the city of Concord’s vaccination rate reaches 70% (the minimum to achieve herd immunity), or until the COVID-19 vaccine is approved for elementary-aged children and a sufficient period of time has passed to allow families to vaccinate their children if they want to. Currently, Concord’s vaccination rate is 59%.

“These discussions do not get easier,” board member Barb Higgins said. “I think a year ago we were hoping we wouldn’t be having them any more, and yet here we are.”

During the in-person public comment session, seven community members spoke against requiring masks for students, citing personal freedoms, and fears that lengthy mask use could be harmful to children and not seeing faces could be detrimental to social and emotional health.

Board member Kate West said the argument for personal choice not to wear a mask clashes with the collective impact of the virus.

“When we talk about choices, I think about how deciding not to have a mask and potentially being an asymptomatic carrier takes away your choice to have a healthy family,” West said.

The School Board ultimately voted 7-1 in favor of the mask requirement. Board members Gina Cannon, Barb Higgins, Jim Richards, Danielle Smith, Walsh, Jonathan Weinberg and West voted yes, and Brenda Hastings voted no.

In the reopening plans that New Hampshire school districts submitted to the state in July to access ESSR funds, many area districts, including Bow-Dunbarton and Hopkinton, indicated interest in optional masking with the caveat that it could change based on COVID rates and state recommendations. Others, like Franklin and Merrimack Valley school districts, said they plan to follow the recommendations of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. Many area district reopening plans have not yet been finalized.

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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