Parents on both sides of the debate speak on recent mandates

Gregory St. Lawrence speaks to the potential social-emotional impacts to children that could be caused by masks at a Board of Health meeting on Aug. 24. Staff Photo/Max Bowen
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Over the last several weeks, the question of face masks and their effectiveness has created a divide as more states bring back mandates requiring them in schools.

Do they work?

Can they really prevent infection from COVID-19?

Are they worth the discomfort and potential emotional impacts to children?

In Massachusetts, the recent decision from the Department of Elementary and Secondary requires them until Oct. 1 for all grade levels. Tied to this is the guidance that if a school can see 80 percent of students and staff get their COVID-19 vaccine, said mandate will be lifted. Such a criteria does not apply to those under the age of 12, as children that young cannot get the vaccine yet, and no decision has been made as to when the mandate would be lifted for elementary students.

In North Attleborough, the question of face masks and what good they do has led to lengthy debates on social media and at board meetings. Some parents feel the move was a good one and stand with the science that the masks can make a difference in lessening the spread of COVID-19. Just as many are strongly opposed, upset over the decision being taken away from them and wanting their children to have a normal school year.

However, one quality is found on both sides—a genuine desire to keep their children safe and happy.

Recently, the North Star Reporter sought out the opinions of parents on the mask mandate. Many responded, and this article looks at thoughts on both sides.

Le Ann Dorian has one daughter at Tri-County Regional Technical High School and two more in the North Attleborough schools. She said that she is split on the mandate—on the one hand, it applies to everyone, but she also feels it’s a parent’s decision. She has nothing against those that want to wear the masks, but wants the choice to be made by the individual.

I was surprised when North said they’d follow state guidelines,” she said.

Dorian added that the mandate being lifted in October could prove discriminatory, as it would allow those not vaccinated to be easily identified. It could also lead to children not being around their friends as the question of whether they’ve had their vaccine could come up. Dorian isn’t a COVID denier and takes the matter very seriously. She said none of her family have become sick and in that regard they’ve been lucky. She said the vaccine has done what it was intended to do and now deaths attributed to COVID have decreased, in particular in Massachusetts. Dorian eventually made the decision to get her vaccination after doing extensive research. She won’t make her kids get the vaccine.

I felt they went the right way before,” she said, referring to previous guidance recommending but not mandating masks. “But no one wins here.”

On the subject of masks in school, Dorian said she won’t have her children disrespect the teacher. However, if while wearing the masks they have difficulty breathing, she has said they should remove them. If the teacher has an issue, she’s told her kids to tell the teacher to call her. She feels the mandate is problematic since it only applies in school buildings and nowhere else.

They can go anywhere they want and not wear a mask,” she said. “But they go into a school and they have to wear a mask.”

Katie Pecora is the mother of a Martin School first-grader and said that the science shows masks work, as does experience. She said her daughter has never had an issue wearing her face mask.

Most of her peers have been nonchalant (about the masks),” she said. “I feel that kids have been overwhelmingly agreeable about it.”

Pecora said her daughter understands the need behind wearing the mask and that it can help prevent the spread of COVID. She was anxious about the lack of clarity in the state’s guidance until recently—for weeks DESE had only issued a “strong recommendation” that masks be worn by those not vaccinated. Having a mask mandate has been “a relief” for Pecora.

I’m glad it has worked out and we have a mask mandate,” she said.

Pecora has received her vaccination and stopped wearing her mask once the requirement was lifted earlier this summer. As cases began to rise and the Delta variant became more prevalent, she began wearing it once more. Pecora said the debate hasn’t impacted hurt friendships, as many of the people she speaks with feel the same way. She understands those opposed don’t appreciate the decision being taken from them and not all the facts are known, but said the science is there that masks help.

I know I want their kids to be just as safe as mine,” she said. “It’s about the kids next to them too.”

A parent’s choice

In the weeks leading up to DESE’s mask mandate, a Facebook group called Make Masks in North Attleborough Schools Optional was formed. Nearly 500 people have joined, and discussions have ranged from news updates on COVID to research regarding the disease. Many members have spoken at board meetings at which mask mandates have been on the agenda.

On Sunday, more than a dozen members met with the North Star Reporter to talk on various issues relating to COVID and the mask mandate. Many spoke on the choice being theirs to make and felt that those issuing the mandates aren’t listening to the public.

Christina Roderick said that the decision has been made for them, but not by them. She questioned whether groups like the Board of Health—who recently passed a mask mandate for schools that was later superseded by DESE—even had the jurisdiction to do so. Heath Hobson said many members have asked about the legality of the decision and not gotten an answer.

If they say masks are required then it’s not a safe environment,” said Hobson of the schools.

Amanda McCabe recalled that when she was young the chicken pox was a serious health concern, but children played together as a way of achieving herd immunity. She’s questioned whether groups like the School Committee or Board of Health can make these decisions, saying they’re under the town’s executive branch and making laws is the purview of the legislative branch.

Each branch cannot overreach their jurisdiction,” she said.

Gregory St. Lawrence has spoken at several meetings on the mask mandates. He has doubts that things will change after Oct. 1 and is concerned over what potential punishment can be handed out to those that don’t wear masks.

It’s a parental decision,” he said. “It puts the kids in the middle.”

Hobson and several parents have sent e-mails to DESE and the state Board of Education, as well as the local boards and gotten little to no response. He credited Health Director Anne Marie Fleming, who has responded to e-mails and requests for information. He said that children already question their parents, and the news may lead to kids seeing the government as superseding their family.

Jeff Love said that parents take responsibility for their children and can weigh the risks for themselves. He added that parents of athletes make that choice every time they let them play a sport. St. Lawrence said that parents want the best for their children and care the most for them. He said that cases in this area have remained low and masks should be optional.

The state of emergency has been removed,” said Roderick. “School should feel normal now.”