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Parents Divided as Schools Consider Mask Mandates

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Liz Lerner
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Children on their first day of in-person school in October, 2020 in Falmouth.

With the new school year right around the corner and COVID-19 cases rising in children, some school districts are considering requiring masks indoors.

New Bedford school officials voted to keep last year’s mask mandate in place, and the Falmouth School Committee heard from passionate parents on both sides of the debate at a meeting on Tuesday.

Michael O'Brien, a Falmouth parent of three elementary school-aged children, said he believes masks are ineffective.

"Our children deserve to breathe fresh air, unimpeded at every minute,” he said. “This was their God-given birthright. They deserve to see their friends smile at them. They deserve to see their teachers frown at them. This is how they learn to be humans.”

Falmouth physician Dr. Greg Parkinson disagreed, saying masks have been extremely effective in cutting down on COVID-19 infections, as well as other illnesses, such as the flu.

Parents are divided as similar meetings take place around the state.

Monomoy Regional Schools Superintendent Scott Carpenter plans to recommend mandatory masks indoors for all students and staff for the start of the school year. He says the guidelines could be relaxed in the future based on certain benchmarks: 70 percent of students and staff fully vaccinated, and low to moderate community transmission.

The Monomoy Regional School Committee is scheduled to vote Aug. 25.

Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday that he does not plan to revise the state’s mask guidelines for schools, which means any mandates will be up to local districts.

Families of the youngest children may be facing the issue of all-day masks for the first time.

Steven LePage, who works in development here at CAI, is wondering how things will go for his first child, who’s entering kindergarten at the Alma del Mar charter school in New Bedford.

“It's nerve-wracking thinking about the increases in COVID and the fact that he's so young that a vaccine won't be available for him,” he said. “I know it's highly unlikely that if he gets it, he will become very sick and have to be hospitalized. But ... that's my number one concern, is him being unvaccinated and potentially being exposed to the new Delta variant.”

Alma del Mar spokeswoman Becca Kurie said the school will require masks for staff and students; the school serves Grades K-8.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has strongly recommended masks in school for anyone who is unvaccinated.