By Kaitlin Bedell
In recent weeks, Londonderry parents and residents have been trying to end the school district’s mask mandate for students indoors.
Resident Meaghan Lloyd founded the “Unmask Our Children” group on Facebook and said she started it after her, along with other parents, felt the school board was not communicating well enough regarding their mask policy.
At the most recent School Board meeting, on June 8, 19 speakers came forward in front of board members to express their disagreement with the current mask policy.
After all of the speakers voiced their concerns, Member Bob Slater made a motion to make masks optional in schools.
“I don’t feel as a school board member that I have the right to tell a parent that their child has to wear a mask,” Slater said.
None of the other board members seconded the motion to vote.
Vice Chair Jenn Ganem said she did not vote to lift the mandate because she “trusts the experts” and wants to continue to follow the guidance of health officials.
“I was very disappointed, and I know a lot of other people were very disappointed,” Lloyd said. “At the end of the day it just felt like they disregarded everything the parents had to say.”
Since the recent meeting, Lloyd said her Facebook group has “exploded” and is now up to 400 members.
“I think it really says a lot about what the parents of this town are ultimately looking for next year and if we continue to not be heard, it’s gonna be a problem,” Lloyd said. “I know we have no intentions of backing down from this.”
Lloyd said that the speeches made by parents were “full of passion and truly heartbreaking” and that some of them were in tears while telling their stories.
In reaction to the parents, Superintendent Scott Laliberte said in an interview with the Londonderry Times that the school board was put in a “very difficult position” and that they reacted “as well as could be expected.”
Laliberte said that it has been “the position of the district since the start of the pandemic to follow the guidance of the state and federal infectious disease experts on matters relative to the safety of students and staff.”
“We know the issue of mask wearing is one that has been divisive in many communities across our state,” Laliberte said, “While I respect the opinions of those with different views, I continue to believe that listening to these experts is the right course of action for our district.”
Some parents who came up to speak said they had fears that wearing the mask could be more harmful than not. A few of the speakers said they had concerns regarding heat, long-term neurological damage, headaches, and face rashes.
Some of those who spoke in favor of lifting the mask restrictions also said that they don’t think they should be mandatory with the current vaccination availability for students and staff.
“Wearing masks doesn’t make sense,” One speaker said during the meeting. “The science doesn’t support it. Give us our rights back.”
Another speaker asked the board to “stay off their phones and pay attention” upon standing before the board to speak. He also questioned Assistant Superintendent Dan Black for his involvement in Amherst, NH’s school district decision to lift mask requirements.
In a sperate interview with the Londonderry times, Black said that his Amherst “reopening committee” involvement was only through the months of July and early August. He said that since then he has not participated in any of their decision making and that he does not know what the process was like for the district to become mask optional.
“I do not think that the Londonderry community members who made those accusations at the school board meeting did enough research on the topic,” Black said.
Lloyd said that she expects a continued presence of parents at the next meeting scheduled to take place on June 22.
The last meeting, which typically would be available on the town’s Youtube account, was deleted.
Laliberte said that the video had been taken down by Youtube because of a “violation of their community guidelines” on grounds of their “Medical misinformation policy.”
The message the school board received was that “Youtube does not allow content that explicitly disputes the efficacy of local health authorities or the World Health Organization guidance on social distancing and self-isolation that may lead people to act against guidance.”
Laliberte said that the district has appealed Youtube’s ruling and that they are working on finding a way to share the video on the school’s own website for public access.