Weare School District will negotiate with teachers to drop mask wearing requirement

  • Weare Middle school on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 5/19/2021 1:41:34 PM

With just a month left in the school year, the Weare School Board will enter negotiations with the teachers union to discuss removing the requirement for masks in schools.

In a school board meeting Tuesday night, which was held in person in the Weare Middle School cafeteria, school officials and members of the community debated the merits of either lifting or keeping the district’s mask requirement in place until the end of the school year on June 18. The board ultimately voted 3-2 to negotiate with the union on the issue.

“I think what we have done is give the opportunity to go back and have that conversation in a way that meets the legal requirements of the board and the union, and has the opportunity for people who want to continue to investigate removing the mask mandate to have an opportunity to do that,” board member Sarah Button said.

The school district currently requires masks be worn inside school buildings and buses, which was baked into a memorandum of agreement with the Weare Education Association in the fall. The rule is currently enforced by staff and administrators but some members of the community wanted it lifted after a statewide mask mandate was lifted by Gov. Chris Sununu.

The cafeteria Tuesday contained a mixture of masked and unmasked audience members. Of the 13 who spoke during the public comment section, three spoke in favor of the mask requirement and 10 were against it it. Those who spoke in favor of masks said they provide safety for children who are not yet approved to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Those who spoke against masks said their children are uncomfortable wearing them, and cited data that shows fewer children become very sick or die from COVID-19 compared to adults.  

Tensions ran high at the meeting. At one point, school board chair Wendy Curry tried to close the public comment period early when a community member began reading a letter by a teacher who had requested to remain anonymous, but Curry was shouted down by board member Rochelle Kelley and members of the audience.  

“Go ahead, keep going,” Kelley told the speaker.

The lifting of New Hampshire’s mask mandate on April 16, and updates to CDC recommendations for fully vaccinated people have led to divided opinions about mask-wearing around the state. Currently, the CDC says fully vaccinated people aren’t required to wear a mask except where mandated by state or local laws. However, the CDC also recommends schools continue using their COVID-19 prevention strategies, which include masks, until the end of the school year. New Hampshire epidemiologist Ben Chan also said last week that the state still recommends masks in schools.

Button made the motion to reopen negotiations with the union to discuss changing the mask policy. Button, Kelley and board member Daniel Recupero voted in favor of reopening the negotiations, while Curry and board member Christine Heath voted against it.

The Weare School Board was already scheduled to enter negotiations with the union soon, to work on the collective bargaining agreement which expires in June. 

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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