By Kaitlin Bedell
Londonderry residents once again came before the School Board at their latest meeting on June 22 to continue to express their disagreement with the board’s handling of mask requirements in schools.
Since the June 8 meeting, when residents came before the Board in protest of the then existing mask mandate in schools, the requirement was lifted as masks became optional on June 10.
“I am glad that public health keeps on updating its approach and follows the science to keep our students, their families, and staff safe,” Assistant Superintendent Dan Black said. “I am glad we have reached a point of safety where we can lessen our mitigation strategies.”
Parents who attended the meeting were requesting the School Board to vote to amend the current reopening plan for the new school year for masks to remain optional, to establish a task force for parents to be on, and to expand the School Board.
New Hampshire state Senator Sharon Carson spoke to the board in support of the parents who spoke.
“I’ve chaired a number of commissions both large and small, so I understand the position you find yourselves in, but I’m surprised at your reaction to the public,” Carson said. “These people are coming to you with a problem that they see is going on with their children about masks and I don’t see you paying attention to them.”
Carson also said that she disagreed with a point brought up by Vice Chair Jenn Ganem earlier in the meeting.
Ganem called a point of order, interrupting two residents during public comment and said that legally they were not allowed to “impede the credibility of a staff member in public.”
Carson said that because the comments made were not an action of the board, she did not believe that they required by law to turn the public comment into a non-public session.
“These folks have every right to come up and complain about what they see going on,” Carson said.
After the meeting, Chair Michael Saucier said to the Londonderry Times that this rule was under the RSA 91 A Section C which deals with nonpublic discussions.
The NH law Saucier referenced states that nonpublic sessions are intended for “Matters which, if discussed in public, would likely affect adversely the reputation of any person, other than a member of the body or agency itself, unless such person requests an open meeting.”
The first resident who, was told by the board they were not allowed to continue based on this law, intended to discuss Assistant Superintendent Dan Black’s words regarding his involvement with the Amherst School District’s mask plan.
Black had said in two separate interviews with the Londonderry Times that he had no knowledge of the process in which the Amherst district’s masks became optional and that he hadn’t been involved with the district since he was on a small community member Zoom meeting as a resident last July and August.
Despite Black’s denial of the involvement of Amherst’s lifting of the mask mandate, Londonderry residents at the School Board meetings said they felt he was inconsistent between the two districts.
As a private Amherst citizen, Black voted yes on the SAU 39 reopening plan which operated based on covid cases.
According to Amherst School Board Chair Tom Gauthier, the plan included a color scale which required masks most of the year but would allow for their removal given improved conditions.
“In short, we knew masks were a possibility at any point just as we knew they could’ve become optional at any point,” Gauthier said. “This was all outlined in the reopening plans.”
Black said that the last time he was a part of the conversation, it was “clear” that face masks would be required at the beginning of the school year.
Another resident made an accusation of Ganem of conflict of interest but was not allowed to finish their comment.
The claim was made based on the premise that Ganem is a psychiatrist and the argument made was that the decisions she makes on the board affects the mental health of students which she could profit off of.
Ganem said that her patients are all “well aware” that she is on the Londonderry School Board prior to their business.