Parents call for optional masks in coming year

Parents call for optional masks in coming year

SMITHFIELD – Each day children wear masks in school, hundreds of smiles are not seen, says parent Kayla Mills, who pleaded along with several other Smithfield parents that the School Committee consider making it optional whether parents have their children wear masks this fall.

During Monday’s school board meeting, Mills spoke about the drawbacks of children wearing masks in schools, including irritability, depression and anxiety.

She said that on average, a child smiles 400 times each day, and spending seven hours of that day in school with a mask on means there are more than 180 missed smiles each day (she said adults smile only 10-50 times per day).

Having happy children should be at the top of everyone’s priority list in the school system, Mills said. She added that a smile goes a long way, and helps build happiness and connection between students, teachers and staff.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

Parent Stephanie McGehearty said she felt strongly about her concerns related to masks, and she said the risks do not outweigh the rewards of wearing them. She said children are low-risk spreaders for the virus, but mental health side effects are significant.

According to McGehearty, youth intake at Bradley Hospital increased substantially during the past school year, and medical evidence shows that students are more prone to headaches. She said parents should decide if students wear masks or are vaccinated.

“Mental health affects and statistics should be more concerning than the risks of our young people,” she said.

McGehearty added that parents who wish to send children to school with masks also have a valid stance, saying everyone should have the option.

Tammy Lawrence, a Smithfield parent and school nurse in Massachusetts for more than 20 years, said she’s seen an increase in behavioral issues, as well as depression and suicidal ideation during the pandemic.

Lawrence said masks cause undue stress on children, and younger children are finding it difficult to pay attention in class.

“We’re making children believe they’re going to kill their grandmother. It’s seriously unfortunate what they’re being told,” she said.

Parent Bill Connell said a petition to make masks optional for the return to school in the fall has more than 300 signatures.

Brian Curtain said his children are in stores, at playgrounds, and interacting regularly without masks, and Smithfield has not seen a spike in cases.


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Supt. Judy Paolucci said that new COVID-19 cases in Smithfield have remained under five people for the past seven weeks. She said the numbers are promising. Numbers show that people are being mindful of behaviors, getting vaccinated, and social distancing, she said.

“If those types of numbers can be maintained, we can safely go to school without masks,” Paolucci said.

She said she is a member of a board that is drafting a policy for the return to school, and hopes to have a draft by the next School Committee meeting in mid-August. She said the board is committed to making the right choice for Smithfield using recognized research from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Despite promising numbers, she said the draft will need to be “nimble,” and allow for a return to wearing masks if COVID-19 “strikes again.”

“Our goal, if at all possible, is to not have to wear masks,” Paolucci said.

Responding to questions from School Committee member Benjamin Caisse, Paolucci said the district is looking at policies for shorter quarantines as well. She said quarantine may decrease to seven days rather than 14, with testing at the five-day mark. If in quarantine, students will follow the same model as last year of completing asynchronous online assignments to in-school learning.

Paolucci said the district can still maintain longer quarantines if desired.

Comments

Enough. This is a medical problem, keep your personal politics out of school. The big guy lost because he handled this as a political issue rather than a medical one. Anti mask and anti vaccine is behavior that is pro death.