SARATOGA SPRINGS — As schools across the country struggle to come up with plans to reopen safely this fall, some local mothers are making it known that when their children return they do not want them to have to wear face masks.
“It’s not because I don’t care about people,” said Kristin Schoenbach of Wilton, whose son is a first grader attending Dorothy Nolan Elementary School. “I don’t think it’s realistic to ask elementary children to have a mask on all day. The staff can wear them, but I think it should be optional for students.”
Schoenbach, who initially expressed her concern on the private Facebook group Concerned Parents of SSCSD Students, directed members of that group in June to sign a petition on whitehouse.gov. The petition, titled “We the people against face masks/social distancing CDC recommended for PreK - 12th grade children in school systems!,” called for parents “to stand up for our children’s rights and future” and that “children deserve to have their constitutional rights and liberties considered.” The petition, which also called masks “dangerous” and “NOT effective,” was closed because “it did not meet the signature requirements.” The national petition only earned 6,790 signatures of the needed 100,000.
She said her position is that masks are fine on the bus and in the hallway, but not all day in the classroom.
Mary Marcolin, who has three children in the Saratoga Springs school district, said she would have signed that petition had she known about it. She said her concern about masks are many.
"I don't think it's feasible," Marcolin said. "It's hard to communicate when you are muzzled. Being able to hear the teacher. It's a nightmare. Kids having to keep track of their masks, putting it on and taking it off."
Marcolin also said she doesn't think masks are "healthy," citing a common claim that when you wear a mask your body takes in less oxygen.
It is common for surgeons and other scientists or health care workers to wear surgical face masks for prolonged periods of time.
Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nor the World Health Organization, has issued warnings suggesting the use of surgical face masks would result in dangerous oxygen level depletion within the general public, according to a recent USA Today article testing the factual accuracy of those who claim wearing masks can post a danger to one's health.
Saratoga Springs School Superintendent Michael Patton said Schoenbach and Marcolin's children will not have a choice. The wearing of masks, which has become a political flashpoint, is not something he will decide. Masks in school is based on what the state Department of Health requires schools to do.
“There will be no choice for school districts,” Patton said. “But face coverings are strongly recommended by everybody, especially anytime social distancing can’t be maintained. Obviously as a school district, we will be following the guidance of the Department of Health.”
Patton said that the reopening plan will include times when the children can take off their masks such as during meals, short breaks and some instructional time if social distancing can be maintained.
“The guidance is very specific about when adults and students (wear masks), whether it's on a bus or in a classroom,” Patton said. “We will provide detail on how face coverings are going to be used when students are here in person. It is clear guidance that we received from the state Department of Education and Department of Health. It’s not a debatable conversation.”
Currently, the state Department of Health mandates masks for in-school instruction because, the guidelines note, “to protect against the transmission of the COVID-19 virus when on school grounds and in school facilities.”
Last month, Schoenbach said she also wonders that if cases in Saratoga County are low, “why are we going to take drastic measures.” She also wants to know about steps to clean and disinfect the schools.
“We need to get a handle on that,” Schoenbach said. “I support schools, but I’m not sending my children to schools without the discussion, without statistics and understanding.”
In her original Facebook post, Schoenbach wrote that “we are taught not to question and go along with everything passed down to us in laws, rules and regulations because you should not question anything as it’s for your own safety and good. Our children deserve more.”
Marcolin said that it's not fair to make bus drivers mask monitors because "they are already overworked and underpaid." And she said it's not in a teacher's contract to teach this way.
"By the time the teacher makes sure everyone is following the protocols and restrictions, they won't have time to instruct," she said. "It will interfere with learning."
Marcolin said she is considering homeschooling her children, two who are in the high school and one in middle school.
Like the petition, however, their views do not get a lot of traction.
Heather Reynolds, a former school board member who had a family member survive COVID-19, countered mask detractors in the parent Facebook group.
“I adhere to these recommendations not out of fear but out a sense of wanting to protect those who are more vulnerable,” she wrote on the Facebook page. “To me, wearing a mask and distancing are not evidence of fear but rather like getting vaccinated, a way to show others we care about their health.”
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