White Mountains Graduates Won’t Have To Wear Masks

White Mountains Regional School District SAU 36. (File Photo/Paul Hayes)

No masks required.

White Mountains Regional High School will allow approximately 60 graduates to go without face coverings at the Class of 2021 commencement ceremony on Friday, June 11.

Lisa Miller, the COVID coordinator for SAU 36, said rising vaccination rates, falling COVID-19 numbers, and the graduation’s outdoor setting made the ‘no mask’ decision a safe one.

Graduates will enter the ceremony in single file and maintain social distance and their guests (up to six each) will sit in pods, and be allowed to remove masks while seated, Miller said.

Explaining the rationale behind the graduation mask policy, Miller said Coos County’s COVID transmission rate was recently downgraded to ‘moderate’ and its vaccination rate was one of the highest in New Hampshire (over 44% of residents are fully vaccinated, 69% have had at least one shot).

Plus, she said, “The thing that makes me feel safest is that this is an outdoor activity. And we know that outdoor activities are super safe. The CDC reports that outdoor transmission occurs in fewer than 10% of cases, and a lot of people argue that that’s exaggerated, and that really it’s less than 1% .”

Miller presented the plan to School Board members on Thursday, May 27, and there were no objections.

School Board member Kristen Van Bergen-Buteau, who has been directly involved in vaccination efforts as Director of Public Health Programs for the North Country Health Consortium, expressed support for Miller’s recommendations.

“I think this is absolutely an opportunity to celebrate. This district has done exceptionally well at having both staff and students lean into vaccinations,” she said. “It has been a long, hard year and I think this is a fantastic way to reward everyone’s efforts at really adhering to those mitigation strategies, in particular vaccinations. And I’m really excited that this is an option.”

Van Bergen Buteau noted that Coos County’s vaccination rate has been remarkable, considering it had the highest ‘vaccine hesitancy’ rate among New Hampshire’s 10 counties.

“North Country residents have definitely leaned into vaccination as a way to get back to normal,” she said.

Miller and Superintendent Marion Anastasia noted that masks would still be required if the graduation was moved indoors due to weather.

They also said masks will be required for eighth-grade graduations at the Lancaster and Whitefield Elementary schools, due to those taking place indoors, and also because students under age 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination.

SURPLUS

SAU 36 is expected to finish the 2020-21 school year with a budget surplus of just under $600,000.

Kris Franklin, Finance Director for SAU 36, said the school district significantly under-spent in seven areas to account for the hefty surplus.

SAU 36 saved six figures on transportation ($156,000 below budget, mostly due to COVID curbed sports travel) and salaries and benefits ($127,000 below budget).

The school district also saved $84,000 on contracted services (primarily because Lancaster’s SRO position went unfilled), $64,000 on supplies and $56,000 on equipment (due to remote learning), $49,000 on professional development (offered less during COVID), and $30,000 on utilities (lower rates through a new internet provider).

Some of those savings were offset by a $96,000 increase in food services, and $41,000 spent on facility repairs.

Finalized surplus numbers will be presented at a later meeting.

RESIGNATION

David Holmander of Whitefield has left the School Board.

His resignation was accepted May 27 and was effective immediately. The School Board will advertise the position and interview candidates in the coming weeks, before appointing a replacement to fill out the remainder of Hollmander’s term which runs through 2022.

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