There is a pall hanging over the New Hampshire Public School system. It takes the form of protesters violently demonstrating at local school board meetings, lawyers suing school districts for requiring masks and the willful abdication of the responsibility of the State to ensure the welfare of its citizens especially the ineligible, unvaccinated children.
Governor Chris Sununu, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and the New Hampshire Department of Education shifted the responsibility for the development and implementation of school mask policies to local school boards.
In August, some local school boards made masks optional. About 16% of the statewide student population returned to schools with masks optional contrary to the recommendations of the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. A survey of the State’s school nurses by the New Hampshire School Nurses Association found 52% of districts had mask optional policies at the start of school. With the current spread of the Delta variant, mask optional policies developed by the local school board members endanger the welfare of New Hampshire educators, students and school support staff. Since Labor Day, our State has seen a 27% jump in Covid cases in under 18 year olds, a population in New Hampshire with a 36% vaccination rate for 12-17 year olds.
Multiple clusters and reports of school community transmission are currently occurring in our State. A small rural school in the White Mountains with a mask optional policy is experiencing one of the State’s first school Covid clusters. Wentworth Elementary School, with a total student population of 65, had 17 positive cases among students and staff as of September 17th with the possibility of 14 more cases related to the initial cases. Our nation’s educational leaders and child mental health experts implore us to provide in-person learning for students. Most New Hampshire school districts started the year without a remote learning option.
Our nation has been dealing with this deadly disease for 19 months. Our healthcare providers, our educators and every American citizen faces fatigue and wishes to return to the “before” times. We cannot abdicate our responsibility to protect our youngest and most vulnerable: children under 12 who are not yet eligible for the vaccine and have returned to our classrooms.
The State of New Hampshire must institute a state-wide mask requirement and other safety measures in all schools immediately and without further delay to protect our children, our school staffs and teachers.
Simone Boodey, of Barrington, N.H., formed a state-wide advocacy group called NH Educators for Safe Schools to amplify the voices of NH educators in the school masking debate.