Masks become optional in Region 16 after vote

Sean Cameron, whose daughter attends a school in the district, speaks during the Region 16 Board of Education meeting at Long River Middle School on Wednesday before the school board voted to make masks optional in schools. Andreas Yilma Republican-American

By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

PROSPECT — The Region 16 Board of Education voted 7-0 to make masks optional in school buildings following an emotional outcry from parents.

Gov. Ned Lamont previously changed policy to allow school districts to make their own decisions about masks effective Monday due to the recent drop in COVID-19 cases.

The optional mask policy for Prospect and Beacon Falls students, staff and visitors will run through the end of the school year, except for school buses due to a federal mandate_

School staff members will no longer manage student masking habits, Board of Education Chairman Robert Robert A. Hiscox told about 40 members of the public at Long River Middle School on Wednesday evening.

“If the student comes to school with a mask and takes it off, we’re not going to tell them to put it back on,” he said.

Hiscox drew applause after he said he has supported making masks optional for students from day one.

“I totally support this motion,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to put it on the agenda when the governor allowed us to do so. It’s unfortunate, but you have to understand also that the position we were put in by the state of Connecticut. Had we not followed those rules, it just would’ve created chaos for everybody_ So we had to do what we had to do and now we can do what we can do.”

Hiscox asked board members to support the motion.

All nine residents of the school district who spoke at the meeting were against the mask mandate_ Some were teary-eyed as they shared how masks have negatively impacted their children. The crowd applauded after every speaker.

Prospect resident Kristi Moore speaks during the Region 16 Board of Education meeting at Long River Middle School on Wednesday before the school board voted to make masks optional in schools. Andreas Yilma Republican-American

Gina Silva, who works in the medical field and has children in the district, said her daughter is not doing well.

“She suffers from severe depression and anxiety. She worries about me dying every day,” Silva said. “I take my mask off and show her how to live because I feel it’s time to live.”

Kristi Moore said masks are causing children to have speech delays because they can’t see facial expressions.

“I think it’s important not only for the kids that have speech delays to not have masks on so teachers can see their mouth movements, but also to see their peers and how they talk because kids are visual learners,” Moore said. “It’s very important.”

Nicole Gaspar noted in one year, the proportion of mental-health-related cases in ages 5 to 11 and 12 to 17 increased approximately 24% and 31%, respectively, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization recommended against masking children ages 5 and under and does not routinely recommend masks for ages 6 to 11, both because of low risk of illness and potential impact on learning and psychosocial development, she added.

“We are here because there was palpable, obvious refusal to recognize the harm of these unprecedented, unnatural, physical mandates that we’re literally placing on our children’s faces,” Gaspar said. “The political science became more important than the medical science.”

Sean Cameron, who has a daughter in the district, said when it comes to ventilation systems in schools, they do not provide hospital-grade filtration so everyone is breathing the same air.

“I watch every day her struggle to come into this school because she has to put (a mask) on her face,” Cameron said of his daughter. “It should be the parents’ choice. It should’ve been the parents’ choice for a very long time.”

Superintendent Michael Yamin said he thinks it’s the right decision to make masks optional.

“I feel like kids at this point should be allowed to come to school – high school kids, senior year and our younger kids – who really will benefit from without masks,” he said. “So I think it’s a great thing and I think it’s the right time to do it.”