Delaware school boards do not have the power to ignore Governor John Carney's universal mask mandate issued last week, but that didn't stop Red Clay Consolidated School District parents from pushing back against it during the monthly school board meeting on Wednesday.
More than a dozen parents took the microphone at Cab Calloway School of the Arts Auditorium, taking their turn voicing displeasure towards the governor's universal mask mandate in schools and asking school board members to intervene and reverse it.
The first was Christina Pala, who said she has two students in the district that she said love going to school.
"What they don't love are these masks. I'm here tonight to state to you, as my children's guardian, I should have the choice whether my children wear masks or not."
Pala also issued a warning to the school board that would later be repeated by another parent.
"You will be liable for a child's physical and psychological health issues from mandated mask wearing, when the decision is not based on science."
Medical experts have said that masks are not dangerous for children and do not cause hypoxia.
The one person who took to the in-person microphone in favor of the mandate was 2016 Charter School of Wilmington graduate Maddie Geller, who begins her teaching career in the district this fall.
"Myself and many other teachers are relieved the the Governor has required masks for students and staff in schools, especially for our elementary kids under the age of 12. Masks are the only protection that we have for those students that are too young to be vaccinated. We all want to be back to school in person, and masks are really essential for this to happen."
No Red Clay board member replied to the audience, but last week, Appoquinimink School Board member Richard Forsten, who serves as an attorney, said that the emergency order has the rule of law, even as a series of parents there protested the mask mandate.
"We don't have the ability to go against the emergency regulations that have been put in place, I'm sorry if that disappoints some people, but it is what it is," he told them.
Back at Red Clay, Jena Anderson, told the board she understood the board can't go against the decision officially, but they can try to protest it.
"The truth is your hands are not tied. If any of you are going to go along to get along, stop it. Don't tell me you wouldn't hesitate to protest an issue, or pose a referendum, if you felt strong enough against it, don't tell me you wouldn't do it, because you would."
Delaware's referendum system is used for funding schools through tax rate changes, so that would not be an option for the board.
While most of the in-person crowd spoke out against the mask mandate, all of the virtual public comments either favored the mask mandates, or wondered why there isn't as robust a virtual option.
Irene Rodriguez made her public comment on Zoom.
"I personally appreciate that the masks are being asked to be worn at school a little while longer. I understand it's not fun, it's not acceptable for a lot of people, but I do think that until we get a little more through this and we have more options, I want to be the voice of saying thank you for keeping our kids safe."
Students in the Red Clay Consolidated School District are scheduled to return to classrooms the week of August 30, with an online learning option open for students who have documented medical needs.
Wednesday night, Democratic members of the Delaware Senate Education Committee sent out a statement about the recent public comment sessions at Brandywine, Caesar Rodney, and Red Clay.
“Over the last week, the immature and irresponsible behavior that has become a hallmark of the COVID-19 pandemic was on full display in school board meetings across our state, resulting in one meeting being halted, another delayed and a third interrupted by chants and an overall lack of decorum.
Adults who claim to have the best interest of children at heart have repeatedly disrupted – or halted entirely – the functions of local school boards at a time when they are diligently preparing for a return to full, in-person instruction.
During the height of the pandemic, many of these same parents protested remote learning, in which children virtually participated in school from home where no mask was needed. They were adamant then that students belong in classrooms with their teachers. Now that our school districts are preparing for a return to in-person instruction with straightforward public health precautions in place, masks have suddenly become the focus of their outrage.
We agree that our students learn best in the classroom, and that's why we support the prudent public health choices that will allow that to occur this fall. This pandemic is weighing heavily on all of us, but the reality is no amount of protest and disruption at school board meetings will end it any sooner. The more people refuse to do what is necessary to protect their neighbors and their communities, the longer it will take for us to emerge from this public health crisis.
We expect disagreement and dissent over the guidelines put in place to protect our school personnel, their families, and their communities from COVID-19. We also expect those divergent viewpoints to be shared respectfully during the focused, structured public comment portion of local school board meetings. And we expect adults to work together to address individual cases where exceptions may be needed.
But our schools and our children’s education should not be held hostage by a vocal minority who expect their frustrations to trump science, data, and our shared responsibility to one another.”
The Delaware State Board of Education is scheduled to meet virtually at 5 p.m. on Thursday. There is no specific mention of discussion of the mask mandate, but there is a public comment section. That meeting was originally scheduled to have an in-person component, but switched to all-virtual on Tuesday.
The Brandywine School District has also rescheduled its meeting to Thursday at 5:30 p.m. and will meet virtually after many refused to wear masks, canceling Monday's meeting.