Merrimack Valley school board threatens to call police on meeting attendees not wearing masks

  • Merrimack Valley High School transitioned from the 'Indians' to the 'Pride' nearly two decades ago. The new logo depicts a lion and a lioness, maws open in a roar.

Monitor staff
Published: 9/21/2021 4:32:17 PM

A meeting between the Merrimack Valley School Board and New Hampshire state representatives was scuttled before it could begin Monday night after members of the public refused to comply with the school district’s policy of wearing masks indoors.

Board members, residents and several state representatives gathered in the high school gymnasium Monday for a special meeting called to discuss school funding, school district property taxes, the Penacook Village TIF District, an update on the “small schools” study as well as the district’s approach to critical race theory. Many district families had expressed concerns to state representatives in recent weeks before the meeting was called about feeling like their voices weren’t heard on district policy decisions, including its mask policy.

Merrimack Valley’s mask policy requires wearing masks indoors when COVID-19 spread in Merrimack County is “substantial” based on information from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Currently all New Hampshire counties have “substantial” spread.

The district had set aside the cafeteria, down the hall from the gymnasium to be a mask-optional room where unmasked people could go and watch a livestream of the meeting on a screen. Before the meeting began, board chair Seelye Longnecker asked unmasked audience members in the gym to comply with the mask policy and gave them the option of either putting on a mask, moving to the cafeteria to watch a video of the meeting, or leaving the building. She added that Concord Police would be called if people refused to comply.

“We have made the cafeteria a no-mask zone for your convenience. If you choose not to take advantage of that, you can please leave the building,” Longnecker told audience members.

After waiting 30 minutes for unmasked audience members to comply, one board member proposed adjourning the meeting and Longnecker agreed, “with great disappointment.”

Two of the state representatives present at the meeting had a medical exemption to go unmasked, according to Longnecker.

School board meetings across the state have become increasingly polarized in recent months, with parents continuing to debate mask mandates during every public comment section. Back in May, at least one woman was arrested after refusing to comply with the mask policy at an in-person meeting of the Timberlane Regional School Board, which was rescheduled online.

Longnecker said by email Tuesday that the Merrimack Valley School Board currently has no plans to reschedule the meeting.

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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