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Masks optional at Swift River School starting March 14

  • Swift River School in New Salem. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 3/4/2022 3:57:39 PM
Modified: 3/4/2022 3:57:14 PM

NEW SALEM — Masks will be optional at Swift River School and on school buses starting March 14, following a unanimous vote of the School Committee on Thursday.

Parents chimed in during the remote meeting to voice their opinions on the matter, with most requesting an end to the school’s indoor mandate. But Jenny Potee, New Salem Board of Health chair, and school nurse Ann Martin urged committee members to leave the mandate in place until at least March 14, which will be two weeks after students returned to school from February break. This period, they said, allows enough time for anyone with a COVID-19 infection contracted during break to display symptoms and get tested.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education lifted its statewide mask mandate on Feb. 28, which left each individual school district with its own choice on whether students and staff should be masked.

Swift River School parent Gosia Spooner said she has “really had enough” with masks, and March 16 will mark “two years of what should have been two weeks,” referring to early estimates of how long it would take to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“Parents are very capable of making life choices for their kids,” Spooner told committee members. “Please let them be happy and let them be themselves again.”

New Salem School Committee Chair Carla Halpern then asked Potee — also the town’s public health nurse and a school nurse for 16 years — for her thoughts on the matter. Potee said New Salem’s indoor mask mandate, which did not apply to the school, was lifted at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday. However, she said she is concerned about asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers being unmasked in school and spreading the virus to others.

Parent Anna Seeger advocated for maintaining a mandate until the rate of local transmission decreases.

Spooner again spoke up to say wearing a mask is affecting her son’s mental health.

“I will not let him go through this any longer,” she said. “It’s just awful.”

Parent Dara LaPlante relayed that her third-grader has said wearing a mask “is like torture.”

Heather Willey, a parent who is an early childhood educator, echoed Spooner’s sentiments and said students are fatigued by the mask mandate. She suggested lifting the mandate and reinstituting it if local cases spike.

Martin, the school nurse, said she understands parents’ concerns about masks and their children’s mental health, but stressed that mask requirements are a logical way to slow COVID-19’s spread. She also said increasing vaccination rates will make life safer for the community.

Willey noted school recently resumed following February break, but students travel and return throughout the year. She said wearing masks should be optional.

Potee said she lives the pandemic “day and night” and she knows of people in town who nearly died after getting infected with the virus. She also warned that new variants may be imminent.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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