FILE MASKS hickoryclass-TM.jpg

Masked Hickory High School students listen as history teacher David Gibb leads a classroom lecture about the 9/11 terror attacks.

HERMITAGE — Parents on both sides of the state’s school mask mandate made their feelings known at Monday’s meeting of the Hermitage school board.

Like other school districts in Mercer County, the Hermitage School District started the school year with optional masking for students. But since the state’s which took effect on Sept. 7, Hermitage students have been required to wear masks or face shields.

Some parents regarded the mask mandate as a necessary step to preventing the spread of COVID-19 among students.

Parent Melanie Ferguson, whose child is a freshman in Hickory High School, also supported the district’s decision to follow the mask mandate.

“The number one job of district leadership is to provide a safe and secure environment for children,” Ferguson said.

However, not all of those at Monday’s meeting were in favor of the mask mandate, and several parents spoke about their concerns toward masks’ effects on their children or the potential risk to individual freedoms.

Parent Stacey Bottaro also spoke against the mask mandate, arguing that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration required N-95 masks be used against asbestos, while she said COVID particles were smaller than asbestos particles, which she said rendered masks ineffective against COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a report updated May 7, reported that multiple studies show that masking is effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Parent Karla Dunham, who has four children in the school district, said she wanted to see that students who are quarantined receive the appropriate level of education. Since the start of this school year, quarantined students have received homework assignments that were expected to be completed when the student returned to school.

If students are quarantined, parent Megan Klugh, who has four students and four nieces and nephews in the district, said she would prefer a virtual element for those students who may need extra guidance when quarantined. That could be performed by allowing students to follow class virtually or by providing online resources that could help students stay engaged.

“Some students need that lecture, they need that teacher or that YouTube link,” she said.

Though not a parent himself, Hermitage resident Brian Skibo attended the meeting and said he understood the fellow parents’ concerns about freedom, but argued that even George Washington knew the importance of inoculating the Continental Army. Requiring such inoculations was not considered by the Founding Fathers to be an infringement on anyone’s freedoms, Skibo said.

Randy Emery, a parent with five children in the district, said it was within the school district’s authority to fight the state mandate. He said he would like to see the school board explore possible actions.

But he also thanked officials for bringing the students back to class last school year. He said he and his family understood the threat from COVID-19 was real and would wear masks as required, even if they disagree with the mandate.

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