Haverhill Schools Impose Staff Mask Mandate

SAU 23 superintendent Laurie Melanson (Photo by Paul Hayes)

HAVERHILL — Staff must be masked.

By a 4-3 vote, the Haverhill Cooperative School Board on Monday approved a universal mask mandate for all staff.

The mandate applies to all employees at Haverhill Cooperative Middle School, Woodsville Elementary and Woodsville High School when 6 feet of social distance cannot be observed and takes effect immediately.

Superintendent Laurie Melanson recommended the staff mask requirement and said it addresses the concerns of families with at-risk children. She indicated the mandate would be reviewed on a monthly basis, and did not expect it would continue “after COVID.”

“I would like to think we’ll be out of this sooner rather than later,” she said.

School Board Vice-Chair John Rutherford questioned if the mask mandate opened the school district up to lawsuits.

In response, Chairman Richard Guy quoted the school district’s attorney, who said “I do not see a legal reason why the district cannot adopt a different safety protocol for staff and students.”

School Board members, Don LoCascio, Nate Swain, Sabrina Brown and Guy voted in favor while Michael Aremburg, Alexandra Keeler and Rutherford voted against.

In support of the teacher mask mandate, parent David Robinson donated transparent masks to the school district, allowing students to see their instructors speak.

Meanwhile, the school board voted 7-0 to approved targeted mask protocols for students.

Those protocols are temporary and in response to positive cases. They are as follows:

• When a positive case is identified in a grades PreK to 6 classroom, all students and staff in that classroom will be required to wear a mask in class for 10 days, starting with the date of notification.

• When a grade 7 to 12 student tests positive, all students in that grade will be required to wear a mask for 10 days.

• When a school has 3 or more active COVID-19 cases in the school at the same time, all students and staff will be required to wear a mask in class for 10 days, starting on the date of the third positive COVID test.

Melanson said targeted masking will allow students to stay in school, while addressing public health concerns. She noted that state law no longer allows school to go remote in response to COVID cases.

Rutherford, who has pushed back against mask mandates, approved of the measures because they were targeted and finite.

Haverhill students and staff were already required by federal law to wear masks while riding the school bus.

No Haverhill Cooperative School District students had tested positive for COVID-19 through Monday.

RESIGNATIONS

Chase will step down as the high school principal effective at the end of the school year.

His resignation was accepted with regret. A timeline for hiring his replacement has not been determined.

“Thanks for your years of service,” Rutherford said.

Also, School Board Member Nate Swain announced his departure. He explained that family and work commitments had prevented him from fulfilling his obligations to the board.

He announced his candidacy prior to COVID-19, and during the pandemic, his life was turned upside down, in ways good and bad.

In the past year, he got married and became a father. He lost his job when his employer closed permanently, and went through multiple jobs. In the process, he experienced significant financial issues.

“I attempted to keep my promise I made to this school district during a different time, in a different world and under a different set of circumstances,” he said. “I hoped that after a short time I could regain the balance that I had, and once again be able to fulfill the obligation to the district. That hasn’t happened.”

He added, “I will not apologize for making my family a priority. I will not apologize for making my career a priority. I will not apologize for making my own mental health a priority. I will only apologize that I did not resign sooner, and give someone else an opportunity to serve.”

Those interested in joining the school board can contact SAU 23 at lmelanson@sau23.org

CRITICAL RACE THEORY

Following up on discussions a year ago, Guy asked how the school district had responded to complaints about inadequate education on race.

Woodsville High Principal Eric Chase said race education was embedded in the social studies curriculum, and the issue has been discussed during an administrative retreat.

Melanson added that New Hampshire’s Divisive Concepts law has created confusion. The law prohibits the teaching that an individual is racist, sexist or otherwise oppressive by virtue of their age, gender or other identity.

“[The Divisive Concepts law] made everyone very nervous about what you can and can’t teach,” Melanson said. “You can still teach about slavery and you can still teach about racism. But it’s forced us to be careful about what materials we use.”

Under the law, Melanson said teachers must walk a fine line between giving opinion, and allowing students to discuss “big issues” in a safe school environment.

As the discussion concluded, LoCascio asked for more information on how the material was embedded in the curriculum. Chase agreed to present that information at a future meeting.

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