Hartford schools suspend mask mandate starting next week

  • Danny Mello, 16, adjusts to wearing a windowed mask after he and his fellow cast members of “The Drowsy Chaperone” received them before a rehearsal at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., Tuesday, March 30, 2021. The masks were custom-made by costumer Rosemary Whitman so audience members can see facial expressions during streamed performances. Mello plays Feldzieg in the production. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/17/2022 10:04:35 PM
Modified: 3/17/2022 10:13:33 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — In a vote postponed due to technical difficulties at a meeting last week, the Hartford School Board on Wednesday voted, 3-2, to suspend its mask requirement beginning next week.

In dropping their mask requirements, Hartford schools join others across the Upper Valley who have stopped requiring masks in recent weeks in response to changing state and federal guidelines that no longer recommend masking for most people.

“The process I have come to depend on — given the difficulties in understanding science; understanding politics; (understanding) different needs of different people — has been to rely on our own group of experts,” board member Peter Merrill said in a recording of the meeting. “That’s what’s worked for us as much as anything has worked for us.”

In supporting the suspension of a mask requirement in Hartford schools, Merrill was joined by the board’s Chairman Kevin “Coach” Christie and board member Russ North. Board members Nancy Russell and Havah Armstrong-Walther opposed it.

The two-hour discussion leading up to the board’s split vote included comments from parents, students and teachers urging the board to follow guidelines from state and federal health and education officials, who have said it’s now safe to stop requiring masks in schools and other public spaces due to the decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“We can’t now make an emotional decision,” said Nicolette Raney, a Dothan Brook School teacher. “The guidance says we do not need to wear masks.”

She said she worried that if the schools continued to require face coverings, it would “send a message that our schools are not safe.”

Several parents of children with special needs spoke about how masks have made it more difficult for their children to learn and to interact with their teachers and peers.

Kelsie Bingham said her 4-year-old son Charlie, a preschooler in Hartford, has autism and has trouble making friends. Bingham said Charlie told her “none of the other students like him because he can’t see their faces.”

Hartford parent Brianne Goodspeed also spoke in favor of dropping the mask requirement.

“Our children need and deserve to get back to a state of normalcy,” she said. “They need to see faces.”

Goodspeed’s 7-year-old son, Liam, also shared his views.

“I’m fed up with masks,” he said.

Some remained apprehensive about giving up masks, given that some people still remain at risk to serious illness. Russell, one of the board members who opposed dropping masks, asked what Hartford schools would do to increase other mitigation strategies if people stop wearing masks.

Felicia Hayes, Hartford High School’s nurse, said that under Hartford schools’ new COVID-19 guidelines, masks would not be required in schools except for those with symptoms, for those who are within 10 days of testing positive or who are within 10 days following an exposure to the virus.

People also will be asked to continue to stay home when sick and to test if they have any symptoms. They can return to school as long as symptoms have improved, they’ve received two negative results on antigen tests taken 24 hours apart and they are fever-free for 24 hours.

Hartford schools will continue to alert members of the community when someone has tested positive and to provide rapid tests as long as the state continues to supply them.

Several of those who spoke said they hoped there would be no bullying or teasing no matter whether students chose to continue wearing masks or not.

“Kids will be kids,” North said. “There will be taunting. I just want to make sure that we are very firm in our position that that will not be tolerated.”

School officials left the door open to reinstating the mask requirement in Hartford schools should COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase.

“It could be temporary,” Superintendent Tom DeBalsi said of the suspension of the mask requirement. “I don’t know. No one knows what’s going to happen.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

CORRECTION: The Hartford School Board discussed whether or not to drop its mask requirement for about two hours at its meeting on Wednesday. A previous version of this story included an incorrect duration for the board’s discussion.

Sign up for our free email updates
Valley News Daily Headlines
Valley News Contests and Promotions
Valley News Extra Time
Valley News Breaking News

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy