MEREDITH — A local woman, who is the mother of two young schoolchildren, has started a petition to prevent the Inter-Lakes School District from requiring that students wear face masks while in school.

The petition drive was launched Thursday evening by Kaitlyn Haines, who herself came down with COVID-19 in April.

Haines said she thinks the face-mask mandate being pushed by Inter-Lakes Superintendent Mary Moriarty is an overreach and will do students more harm than good.

“I feel those regulations are far too severe for children under the age of 14,” she said Friday.

Moriarty told the School Board during a work session on Tuesday that under her school reopening plan all students and staff would be required to wear masks in school with “very few if any exceptions.”

Moriarty did not return a message left with her office early Friday afternoon seeking comment.

Haines said her two daughters, ages 6 and 8, have asthma. She mentioned that fact to Moriarty during an open, in-person meeting Thursday. She said she came away from the meeting feeling that the superintendent considered her children’s health condition as insufficient grounds for granting them an exemption from the mask requirement.

“It was difficult to get a very clear answer,” she said.

The School Board is scheduled to meet Monday at 5 p.m. Members of the public will have the opportunity to offer comments on the school reopening plan, including the mask mandate, at that time. As this past Tuesday’s work session School Board Chairman Richard Hanson said the board “may come to a decision on at least some components of the reopening plan,” but did not cite which parts of the plan the board might act on.

Haines, 31, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early April after suffering for several days with worsening symptoms. For days after her diagnosis she confined herself to her bedroom, leaving only to use the bathroom. During the ordeal she had to stay away from her children, a situation she found especially painful, she told a reporter at the time.

She pointed to the declining number of active COVID cases in the Lakes Region since she was infected as showing why the face mask mandate is unnecessary.

In her online petition, Haines states that making students wear face masks in school will cause students to suffer serious “psychological, emotional, and physical damage.” Among other reasons, she says masks will cause children to become paranoid about germs, see classmates not as friends but as a threat to their health, produce “brain fog” because masks will reduce the level of oxygen in the brain, and weaken their immune systems.

Haines has posted an entry about the petition on her Facebook page with a link to the petition, which is on the website change.org, which facilitates petitions by the general public.

She said keeping students 3 to 6 feet apart in class and enforcing proper hygiene measures will be enough to ensure that students do not have to worry about contracting the coronavirus.

She said teachers and others on the school staff should also not be required to wear masks.

Haines said COVID precautions are causing people to become unjustifiably afraid to move about their communities or have normal social interactions.

“We need to adjust and adapt, and not hibernate in our houses,” she said.

Both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say face masks in combination with other preventive measures help slow the spread of the virus.

But Haines is not convinced by such findings, noting that some studies question masks’ effectiveness.

“There is not enough information out there,” she said of the conflicting claims.

She said many COVID precautions “are causing more psychological damage than they are protecting (people) from the virus.”

Haines said she has sent a letter explaining her position to members of the Inter-Lakes School Board and if she does not hear back from them soon, she plans to call them.

Haines said she wears a mask when she goes to the grocery store and that her daughters wear masks whenever they go into a store (which is not very often) and when they go out to eat. If they are out in public, she said, they try to keep their distance from other groups of people.

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