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Springs Families Echo Calls for Mask Choice

Thu, 02/17/2022 - 11:08
Many parents attended the school board meeting on Tuesday to speak about mask choice.
LTV Studios

A chorus of Springs School parents on Tuesday joined the many loud-and-clear voices calling for a “mask choice” policy, which would enable them to decide whether their children should wear masks.

A similar discussion took place in Sag Harbor on Feb. 7, and the next day, the Southampton School Board voted to institute parental choice as soon as Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Feb. 21 mask mandate expires. However, districts’ hands are technically tied right now, with Governor Hochul saying during a Feb. 9 press conference that the mask mandate for students will remain in effect until at least Feb. 28, when the children return from their winter break — at which point she will re-evaluate the need for masks in schools.

One Springs mother presented the school board with a letter signed by 60 parents who support mask choice. Another quoted letters that she said were written by students themselves, with comments ranging from “please unmask me,” from a kindergartner, to “masks stop me from learning the way I need to,” from a fifth grader.

“Are you just here to listen, or do you have an interest in advocating for our children?” Ashley Libath, a former Springs PTA president, asked the school board. “If so, is there someone on the board who supports mask choice? How can we as parents support you? . . . It’s time to give us a choice.”

Even a Springs teacher, Cristen Keyes, spoke up to say that “masks make everyone miserable, myself included, especially children.” She also urged the administration to allow parents to visit their kids’ classrooms once again for celebrations, performances, and conferences with teachers. “I think that it will be much better once the masks are gone,” Ms. Keyes said.

Other parents referred to how the kids’ masks are wet and dirty when they arrive home each day. Debra Winter, the district superintendent, reminded them that each classroom has “all different types” of fresh masks for kids to take when they need them.

“The board of education and school administrators have a certain responsibility to uphold” the state’s mandates, Ms. Winter said. “If not, we could be removed as administrators and board members, and we could forfeit our state aid.”

Ms. Winter said at-home test kits will be sent home in children’s backpacks for testing at the end of the winter break. It will not be mandatory, she said, but it is strongly recommended.

Christine Cleary, the school principal, responded to the parents’ pleas with a pledge to slowly invite them once again for school events and celebrations. Spirit meets will be reinstated and a fifth-grade talent show will be introduced, but “we have to do it in a way that’s responsible,” she said.

Ms. Cleary also said she “sees all sides of the issue. . . . It’s been a very tough balance between health and safety, and again, joyful learning and preserving the traditions that are so precious to us.”

 


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