SPENCER — Several community members spoke up during the public comment section of the Spencer-Van Etten board of education meeting last week, with a majority of the speakers voicing their opposition to face coverings in school.
Jason Vanderpool was the first to share his thoughts about masks, and he recapped the discussions of a previous board meeting for context.
“What we went over was we read the instructions of the masks that the kids wear, and we all know that they do not protect for virus,” Vanderpool said. “What they are for is bodily fluids ... that’s all that is is a blood borne barrier, it’s not a viral barrier.”
COVID-19 updates put out by the Chemung County Health Department in February and March suggest that being a barrier for bodily fluids is what makes masks them effective against the spread of COVID-19, since they prevent respiratory droplets going from person to person.
Vanderpool went on to share his belief that face coverings are not worth the “trauma” they inflict on children.
“We’ve heard kids come in and say how traumatized they were by wearing a mask and what it did to them,” said Vanderpool. “To us, it’s more important that even if one kid is traumatically scarred that much that we have to stand up; that we have to look at the numbers and see that our kids aren’t in danger, that we should not be living in fear ... We should allow them to express themselves in an environment of hope and light instead of a darkness and terror because they fear they’re gonna get sick.”
Vanderpool asked the board to “side with the kids” when determining policy, and to not require face coverings in school even if mandated to do so.
“I just hope that you guys think about the kids and look at the numbers and come up with a decision that’s gonna best support them throughout the rest of their life, in their path from child to adulthood without trauma,” Vanderpool said.
Kathy Shappee and her sister Sarah also spoke in opposition to masks in schools. Kathy shared her personal experiences when the district transitioned from virtual to in-person instruction last year.
“My oldest wanted to stay doing virtual, the other two went back,” Kathy said. “I tried to get her to go, and tried to get her to go, and she wouldn’t.”
She went on to describe the trouble she had with her child when the district ended the virtual learning option.
“It was such a rough time,” Kathy said. “She was losing her grades ... we tried helping her and she was just dropping her grades, so I said you have to go back.”
Kathy also described the effort she made with middle school guidance counselor Daniel Craven to get her child to attend in-person.
“I stood outside with Mr. Craven for probably 20 minutes every day for like two weeks for her just to come inside to his office,” said Kathy, “Then I sat in there with her, with her crying, for like two hours every day and then I had to leave her.”
She then equated leaving her child at school, where they would have to wear a mask, to child abuse.
“I felt so bad leaving her, like I was abusing her,” said Kathy. “The whole fifth grade team was great because Mr. Craven would call down her friends and let them come down and help her feel welcome and feel like she’s not the only one that has to suffer through wearing this mask.”
Kathy’s sister, Sarah Shappee, echoed the same feelings toward face coverings in school and shared her own experiences from last year.
“My daughter had lots and lots of anxiety about going to school wearing a mask,” Sarah said. “She came home every day with headaches, (and) we had numerous and numerous nosebleeds.”
Sarah went on to explain that these nosebleeds only occurred during in-person instruction, and not during virtual instruction or summer vacation.
She also shared the worries she has about her younger son going into this school year.
“I’m afraid for my almost six-year-old going back to school,” said Sarah. “He was not enjoying the mask at all.”
She explained how she is concerned his education will be negatively affected by the teachers mouths being covered by masks.
“They’re not watching how the words are being pronounced,” Sarah said. “I feel that’s very important at his age where they need to see those things along with emotions, et cetera.”
Sarah ended by expressing her desire to be able to make her own decisions for the actions and well-being of her children.
“I want to make the choices for my children, they are mine, and I just feel that it shouldn’t be forced upon us to feel like we are abusing them by making them do something that they don’t even want to do themselves.”
On New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s first day in office she announced her intention to have the NYS Department of Health mandate masks in all schools, both public and private. According to information on the governor’s website, she “will also pursue options to mandate vaccines for school employees or require weekly testing in the absence of vaccines.”