LYME-OLD LYME –The Lyme-Old Lyme School District has decided that it will not be requiring students to wear masks in the fall.
Superintendent Ian Neviaser said at a Board of Education meeting on Wednesday that this was part of a plan for in-person re-opening that the district would submit to the state by the end of the month. The plan is a requirement for districts in order to receive funds from the American Rescue Plan, the most recent — and largest — grant allocations from the federal government.
Neviaser said that the district’s intention was to create a school year that was as normal as possible next year.
The announcement was met with relief by three parents who attended the meeting to speak in favor of dropping the mask requirement.
Christina Steiner, the parent of a preschooler, said she felt wearing the masks was impacting her son’s “social and emotional well-being.” She said she believed that parents should have the choice of whether or not their child wears a mask. Another parent, Chelsea Yester, said that she thought the masks were causing anxiety and behavioral problems.
“Why are we forcing children to hide smiles, expressions, laughter with a piece of cloth?” said Yester.
Not all parents were in agreement. Rachael Maginess, also pre-school parent, asked that the district continue to follow CDC and DPH guidelines until all ages are eligible for the vaccine.
“I do think we need to look at the big picture here,” said Maginess, who attended via Zoom. She added that they should be thinking about staff and faculty as well as students.
Neviaser said students or adults would be allowed to keep masking next year if they felt most comfortable doing that.
“We’re never going to prevent someone from wearing a mask,” he said.
He also said that they would continue to measure health metrics, and that if the State Department of Education put a mask mandate into place in the future, the district would have to comply. He said that currently there are no recognized medical exemptions from mandatory mask-wearing.
Richard Goulding, a member of the Board of Education, said he also wanted the children to have as normal an experience as possible, but he emphasized safety of the staff and students first, and the need to follow local guidelines.
“We’re only in June,” he said. “There’s lots of variants right now.”
Goulding also said that vaccines could play a part in the district’s ability to drop the masks.
“If parents want to have masks off … all the data is screaming that the higher your vaccination rates, the more likely you are to have a very low infection rate in that community,” he said.
The district is required to ask for feedback from the community about their reopening plan. Neviaser said they would be mailing the plan out to the parents, place information on the district website and present the plans to both towns.
Feedback can be sent to the district’s recovery email: firstname.lastname@example.org