Some residents in the city of Dover are expressing concern about the school district's re-entry plan which requires elementary and middle school students to wear masks.

Members of the school board voted on the plan during their meeting on Monday night. High school students will not be required to wear masks, but it will be highly recommended that they do so, regardless of vaccination status.

During Citizen's Forum, resident Edwina Hastings asked members for scientific and compelling arguments when it comes to asking children to wear face masks.

Hastings said the rationale for wearing masks is questionable at best. Although they provide protection for high-risk, older adults, the evidence for children is mixed, she said.

"Allowing parents to make an educated decision as to mask use should be paramount in your decision," Hastings argued.

Resident Sally Staude also had questions about mandating mask use for children.

"There has not been a conclusive study that shows that it's safe or effective in children," Staude said.

Resident Zach Woodward, who was at the meeting with his wife, told school board members they are not the parents of every child in the district.

"You cannot make their personal health decisions for them, of which include the choice to wear a mask. This choice is up to individual families and this notion that a select few can make personal decisions stops tonight. It's ridiculous."

Woodward pointed to a study that he said proved 56 percent of the community wanted masks to be a personal choice and that if they adopted the re-entry plan board members would be going against what the majority of parents and guardians in Dover wanted at the time the survey was taken.

Woodward announced his telephone number for people who were watching the meeting on the local cable television channel or streaming it online. He told them they are not alone if they have concerns.

Superintendent William Harbron told board members he was hopeful that they could start the school year with fewer restrictions but due to the Delta variant of COVID-19, he is making these recommendations.

"There are significant factors we need to consider, particularly with younger children and that potential spread there," Harbron said.

Harbron said their goal is to keep students learning in person throughout the upcoming academic year. He said they have talked about distancing and other mitigation techniques, but requiring masks seems to be the best way to ensure success.

Physical distancing, cohorting and screening will still be used. Handwashing and respiratory etiquette will be implemented.

Dover's plan will remain flexible.

School Board Chair Amanda Russell said changes to their plans can be made at any meeting, and that may be required depending on what the numbers say at any particular point in time.

Russell said her children have been vaccinated and will be strongly encouraged to wear a mask at school.

Contact Managing News Editor Kimberley Haas at Kimberley.Haas@townsquaremedia.com.

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