Days after the Haverhill Cooperative School Board eliminated mask requirements for students, a former board member is pushing back.
Dylan Farr has drafted a petition to hold a special meeting to ask voters if they support a mask mandate for students, staff and visitors during periods of significant COVID-19 transmission.
The petition requires 150 signatures, and copies are posted throughout town. While advisory, Farr hopes it will pressure the school board to reconsider its stance on the matter.
“It would send a clear message to the Haverhill Cooperative School Board that their decision maybe didn’t align with people’s true opinion on the matter,” Farr said.
Farr, 24, who served on the school board for a single term before stepping down this year, defended student masking as a highly effective way to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
His petition would put two question to voters. One asking if they support a mask mandate for students, staff and visitors when the community transmission rate in Grafton County is “high” or “substantial” according to CDC standards. The other asking if they support resuming a mask mandate if the level falls, then rises back to “high” or “substantial.”
Once a completed petition is delivered to the school board, a special meeting must be held within 30 days, under state law.
Farr drafted the petition after the school board voted Dec. 13 to make masking optional for all students in grades K-12 for the remainder of the 2021-2022 academic year.
The measure passed 3-2 with the support of board members, Michael Aremburg, Stephanie Chase and Alexandra Keeler.
It replaced a targeted masking policy, which had required students to temporarily mask up after classmates tested positive.
“I’ve always been a major advocate of masking. The science is so, so clear. And it should be common sense that masks prevent the spread of COVID. It’s one of the most effective tools that we have. To ignore it because it’s become politicized is baffling to me,” he said.
The school board’s decision went against the recommendations of the State Department of Health and Human Services and federal Centers for Disease Control, and defied a parent survey that showed majority support for masking.
Farr called it a politically-motivated action and a disservice to the community.
New Hampshire saw a record number of cases earlier this month, Granite State hospitals are experiencing a surge in COVID patients and a related shortage in bed space, and Haverhill has one of the highest COVID case rates in the state.
The Haverhill Cooperative School District has reported 92 cases (12 active) during the current school year.
“We put our students, staff and their families at great risk by becoming complacent. The argument being made that freedoms are being threatened isn’t ‘big picture’ thinking. Those freedoms won’t help you on a ventilator, or worse, in a wooden box,” Farr wrote in the petition.
The Haverhill Cooperative School Board also voted against mask requirements for basketball players and fans at all grade levels, while allowing the middle school to make exceptions in order to host Vermont opponents who follow more stringent masking guidelines.
Haverhill schools continue to have a universal mask mandate for all staff.
Meanwhile, targeted student masking remains in effect at other SAU 23 schools Bath, Benton, Piermont and Warren.
SAU 23 Superintendent Laurie Melanson did not respond to requests for comment.