Newmarket, NH School Mask Detention Reignites Debate
Newmarket Junior-Senior High School's newly implemented mask mandate punishment that could result in an in-school suspension has reignited the controversy over masks among some parents.
According to an email sent by principal Davil Dalton and posted on the district website, most students are wearing masks properly and all day in school except when eating or drinking in compliance with the school's mandate. Students are also encouraged to social distance whenever possible.
"There are, however, other students who are more reluctant to embrace these expectations and have required repeated reminders and coaching to wear their mask appropriately," Dalton wrote. "Students choosing to not follow our masking guidelines present a risk to themselves and the other students and staff within their environments."
Students who don't wear their mask properly will first get a warning.
Further non-compliance will land a student in a counseling room for the remainder of the class period followed by an after-school detention where they will "identify barriers to mask wearing and develop a plan for returning to class."
Any subsequent offenses will result in a one-day, in-house suspension. The new policy took effect on Monday.
Even as the Omicron variant fueled a winter surge of cases, Gov. Chris Sununu has not reinstated a statewide mask mandate for New Hampshire adults or children. School districts, municipalities and businesses have the option to implement their own policies.
Compromising on Masks
Parent Erica Hiera told Seacoast Current that while parent surveys showed support for an optional mask policy, a mandate has been in place all year as parents wanted to keep their kids in school for in-person learning.
"I think this email went out and it kind of relit the fire if you will. More parents kind of woke up to 'wow instead of getting better this is going to get a whole lot worse'," Hiera said.
The parent of a 3rd grader and 6th grader, Hiera places blame for the new compliance policy on the school board, and the superintendent wishes and acknowledges that they are trying their best to keep kids safe. Hiera also acknowledged there are parents in the district who want their children to wear a mask in school.
"We don't see it as a safety issue. It's more of a health and wellbeing issue. COVID is a virus that can make my kids sick. It's not a safety thing. It's a wellness thing and my children's wellness is my responsibility," Hiera said. "The school doesn't need to own that. They've got enough they need to own. Let them worry about safety and I'll worry about wellness."
Hiera said that both her children have had COVID, and as far as she is concerned they don't need to mask up and are done with the coronavirus.
"Theoretically they aren't contagious or passing it along to anyone at this point. I'm just not as worried about them going maskless at this point as some parents are," Hiera said.
In his letter, Dalton reminded parents who don't want their kids to mask up in school that there are alternate options for learning at home through VLACS enrollment.
Another School Puts Teeth in its Mandate
Newmarket isn't alone in reinforcing its school mask mandate.
As first reported by NH Journal, children who do not wear a "properly fitted mask" at the the West Running Brook Middle School in Derry will receive an after-school detention.
The school's Friday Focus said that well-fitted masks on students has always been the district's policy, but there have been bumps in the road.
"The exchanges between teachers and some students - where we encourage, prompt, and support them to wear their mask so that it is well-fitted - are interruptions to relationship building and often can interrupt the flow of classroom learning," the newsletter states.
The detention is not intended as a punishment, but rather a time to communicate the importance of wearing a proper mask.
"By setting a time for education, we hope to maximize the time teachers and students are engaged in academic learning during the school day," according to the newsletter.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH