Lawmakers to debate mandates on masks and vaccinations

  • 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: 1/8/2022 2:00:08 PM
Modified: 1/8/2022 1:59:16 PM

New Hampshire lawmakers will debate a number of bills centered around COVID-19 safety rules for schools this legislative session, including efforts to restrict some safety measures like masking and vaccine requirements.

HB 1371 “relative to school district policies on facial masks of students in schools,” would require New Hampshire school districts to make face masks optional, explicitly stating that mask use is a parent’s decision. The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. William Foster, a New Boston Republican, and nine other Republicans, would also require districts to adopt an accompanying zero-tolerance policy against bullying because of masking choice. 

In a similar vein, HB 1588 seeks to allow students to transfer schools if their district has a mask mandate when there’s no statewide emergency order in place. The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Love , a Derry Republican, says the school district with the mask mandate would be required to cover the student’s cost of transportation and tuition to any approved public or nonpublic school outside the district, including including those funded by education freedom account grants, regardless of student’s qualification.

National Education Association New Hampshire, the state’s largest teachers’ union, weighed in on the legislation in a statement Friday, warning that without safety protocols, schools could become so short-staffed that there would not be enough adults to safely operate the buildings – an issue many districts statewide are struggling with this month.

“Our top priority is to keep our students and educators safely learning in their classrooms – and we have the tools to help make that possible,” said NEA-NH President Megan Tuttle. “We know that using layered and multiple measures like vaccinations, masks, proper ventilation, and ‘test to stay’ policies will save lives and help ensure that our students and our educators can stay in the classrooms. These bills are not based on science or fact. They are nothing more than political proclamations that will only serve to endanger our students and staff.”

Other bills focus specifically on vaccines. HB 1233 would prohibit public colleges and universities from requiring masks or COVID-19 vaccines for enrollment or attendance. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Peter Torosian, an Atkinson Republican, and four other House Republicans, would ban mask or vaccine mandates within both the University System and the Community College System of New Hampshire.

Another bill, HB 1035 “relative to exemptions from school vaccine mandates,” would allow any parent to request an exemption from any vaccine required for school attendance, such as those for measles, tetanus and polio. Currently, COVID-19 vaccines are not required for school attendance. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Timothy Lang, a Republican from Sanbornton, and four other House and Senate Republicans, would allow parents to claim exemptions as a “matter of conscience,” in addition to medical and religious exemptions.

New Hampshire School Nurses Association president Paula McKinnon spoke against the bill Tuesday at a press conference hosted by New Futures.

“These vaccination requirements are very important tools for maintaining high vaccination coverage and low rates of vaccine preventable diseases,” McKinnon said. “Currently, immunization has had an enormous impact on improving health statistics in any country, and vaccination plays a vital role to prevent infants children and teens from 14 potentially harmful diseases.”

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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