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Littleton School Board decides against mask mandate at emergency meeting

November 18, 2021
LITTLETON — Littleton School Board officials opted not to make masks mandatory at Lakeway Elementary School during an emergency meeting last Monday, despite administrative recommendations otherwise.

Littleton Superintendent William Hart suggested the school board review the current SAU 84 voluntary masking policy due to the recent and significant uptick in COVID-positive cases. While numbers remained at zero at the high school, Lakeway Elementary had 32 cases, ten of which were staff members. Hart noted that continued increases, particularly among the staff, would make educational norms a challenge.

"Today at the elementary school, I believe our principal, director of student services, our director of teaching and learning are all trying to help out because you have such a large population of our staff out," noted Hart.

Lakeway Principal Crystal Martin noted, "My concern is that in order to continue this trend, we're going to have a serious violation of staff safety. I do not want to make this recommendation, but it prevents us from going deeper into staff absences. Doing nothing isn't going to change that."

SAU 84 board member Larry Blaisdell said he believed in doing something rather than nothing. The board should defer to medical experts, mandate masks at Lakeway for a short period and monitor the middle and high schools, he added.

"We can turn a corner, and we can always take it back. So by even some small chance we can slow the spread of this illness and keep our staffing and students in school, I think we need to give it a shot. Doing nothing at this point is probably a mistake," stated Blaisdell.

Fellow board member Matthew St. John, who opposed masking mandates at the beginning of the school year, pointed out that other schools with mandates in place still had significant school community spread.

"It seems like we're trying to reduce the spread and mitigate risks with a relative level of confidence that cloth masks worn temporarily are going to accomplish that goal," stated St. John.

School Board Chair Greg Cook noted receipt of six letters from parents, three of which favored a mandate and three opposed. He added that remote learning was no longer an option for at-risk students with underlying health conditions, and that wearing masks would not protect at-risk students from other classmates.

Several impassioned residents argued both sides of the debate during the two-hour hybrid meeting. Opponents argued that mask enforcement diminished educational success and increased behavioral problems, while proponents noted increased spread and emerging long-term virus symptoms.

Littleton social studies teacher and Teacher's Association President Jeremy Brown said his purpose wasn't to debate one side or another about mask mandates or get involved with the politics of COVID, but to express the general concern of the teachers.

"My job as the union president is to essentially keep watch over the negotiated agreement and make sure that the work environment for teachers is conducive for them. Regardless of what people may believe about the various aspects of COVID, it is having an impact on our schools, and we are obligated to respond somehow," stated Brown.

The educator said teachers faced significant classroom disruptions, whether from covering faculty absences or tending sick children at home. He added that teachers were burning the candle at both ends to address academic deficiencies and significant behavioral problems.

Board member Ann Wiggett motioned to accept Hart's masking recommendation and put it on the floor for a discussion. The action received no second from fellow board members.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
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