LACONIA — Effective immediately, teachers, staff and students in the district’s five schools are required to wear masks whenever a distance of six feet can’t be maintained.
The School Board on Tuesday voted 5-2 to approve the policy change from masks highly recommended to masks mandatory, based on a recent outbreak in two classes at Elm Street School. Since Aug. 30, there have been 34 cases district-wide — four staff and 30 students — with eight out of 17 students in one classroom at Elm Street School testing positive for COVID-19. Last week, three students tested positive in another Elm Street classroom, prompting that school to require masks.
“It was a question of being proactive, or reactive,” Superintendent Steve Tucker said Wednesday. ”The data in the county and schools had changed. My recommendation was to do so. We’re continuing to use data to drive our decisions.”
Board members Joe Cormier, Heather Lounsbury, Nick Grenon, Mal Murray, and Aaron Hayward voted for the change, while Laura Dunn and Dawn Johnson opposed mandating masks.
Mask wearing has been a controversial topic throughout New Hampshire school districts, with naysayers citing research that shows that the virus passes through all but N-95 masks, and mask wearing can make speaking and understanding more difficult for children. Proponents of mandating masks in schools, including local physicians, maintain that masks are an essential way to slow transmission because they help curtail the number of virus and bacteria-containing droplets expelled through coughing, sneezing, and exhaled breath. With numbers of cases on the uptick statewide, including in schools, many school boards are moving to more cautious policies in order to preserve in-person learning as long as possible.
Although masks are strongly recommended indoors for staff and students at all times, “We’re saying if you can maintain a distance of six feet, you don’t have to wear a mask,” Tucker said.
In accordance with federal guidelines, masks are required on First Student school buses, which serve the district.