Letter to SAU 84 on Masks

To the Editor:

SAU 84, you raised me, I grew up with you. I attended elementary school at Lakeway. I was one of the first classes to break in the new CTE building in middle school. I graduated high school as an athletic captain amongst presidential roles affiliated with my class and The National Honor Society.

I came back during college breaks to substitute teach at Lakeway while I pursued a degree in English Education. I even spent 3 whole summers as a janitor taking care of the place I called home for 6 years. I took on a part-time janitorial job at night when I was remotely attending my senior year of college because they were short-staffed last fall. Lastly, I did my student teaching in Littleton which was a special experience for me before I entered the world of teaching as an educator. I have always been proud to be a Littleton Crusader, until last night when my little brother looked so heartbroken that he doesn’t feel safe going to school.

I, a high school English teacher, and my 10-year-old brother face similar anxieties every single day in going to school. We both share the trauma of almost losing our older sister to COVID-19. A perfectly healthy 30-year-old gasping for air, with a collapsed lung, coughing up blood, in between coughing fits telling our mom she didn’t think she was going to make it before being admitted to the hospital. Our sister miraculously recovered but has yet to regain her sense of smell, taste, and regulated hormones. Thankfully because of our general area you probably don’t have a nearly or fatal direct experience with COVID-19 like this. I sincerely hope that none of you have lost someone from this virus. Millions of people however do know this pain and have lost loved ones. Let’s not let one of our school community members be the first casualty of COVID that you know.

No one hates the word COVID-19 more than I do, especially being a teacher. Do you know what my least favorite part of my job is? “Please put your mask on. Please put your mask on properly. Please pull your mask up.” I dread having to repeat those words day in and day out, but I do. I do because as much of a pain it is to wear the mask, it’s nothing remotely close to the pain of not knowing if your loved one is going to make it from COVID-19. I’m sick of the pandemic just like you. The news, our daily conversations, our emails, the lack of normalcy in public, believe me, I get it. This is not political. This is personal. Yet the school and town politics of it all are getting in the way of science and at least one student’s wish of just getting to go to school.

It’s easy to become detached up here in the mountains, that’s truly one of the beauties of this place. Yet that doesn’t excuse us or make us any less susceptible to the adversities we mainly witness on TV. Blessings and curses go hand in hand, please, don’t let our geographic isolation become a breeding ground for ignorance because “it doesn’t affect us up here.” That’s not an excused civic pass. Our geographic barriers do not excuse us from turning a blind eye to racial, social, prejudiced, economic, national, or global issues. We as a community still have obligations to uphold even if it doesn’t directly affect ourselves.

My fifth-grade brother wants to go to school more than anything. He wears his mask, he washes his hands, yet he goes to school and doesn’t feel safe. He is subjected to harassment and mockery because he is one of the few students who consistently wears a mask. I am biased as he is my brother, but from a teacher’s standpoint; a student who wants to go to school, that is the kid you stay teaching for. He struggled through virtual learning like most parents, students, and teachers did. Yet, despite how much he hates learning from home, now he says; “I want to be at school, I learn better there, my teachers and friends are there. I just don’t feel safe, not many people wear masks and I really don’t want to get sick with COVID.”

It’s been nearly two years of this social distancing, masking, chaos. It’s tiring and it’s frustrating. Do you know what’s more frustrating than a pandemic? Trying to teach in one. As an educator do you know how often my plans are disrupted by COVID? Hourly. I can see a student in the morning and by the third block, they’re sent home with symptoms or as a close contact. Numerous times we have gotten to the fourth block when administrators or the nurse are running around handing masks because we have a new positive case in the building. Monday a full class of kids, Tuesday I have four students in the once 20 some odd person class. Handouts are truly a thing of the past because there is never a day I have a full attendance roster. Don’t get me started if I get sick. There are no substitute teachers. Our support staff is already spread thin, now let’s make them substitute too. A couple of minutes into class, the phone rings, “please send so and so to the nurse have them bring their stuff” halfway through class “hey so and so won’t be in next block” moments after hanging up “check your email you’ll need to make 10 days worth of makeup work to so and so.” Our environment is so turbulent and fragile it feels like at any second you’ll be the one being sent home as a close contact. Thankfully in my school system, we have procedures in place, protocols that are followed that have proven to work in slowing the spread. Before you think I am biased to the district I am in now, remember I worked at LHS last year during the pandemic, where similar protocols were in place and enforced. Where between then and now these successful protocols vanished I am not entirely sure, but I strongly encourage you to reach out to our SAU and ask them to revisit the plans they had in place from last year.

I’ve seen the student side of the pandemic from a variety of different lenses. I was a student for the first year of the pandemic. I finished the remainder of my college career remotely from my desk at home. I communicate and listen to my students’ concerns about the pandemic daily. I hear my 10-year-old brother, a fifth-grade student, trying to understand why he is one of few wearing a mask when many adults in the building don’t even set an example. I understand the anxieties and pressures a student has with school work, let alone a global pandemic. I truly can grasp the added stress of entering a school building every day. I also get the frustration of having to keep a mask on and try to act like everything is normal when it’s not. I also know the relief that comes from being protected and protecting others with such a simple solution of a mask. All that is being asked is that we all do our part to slow the spread of the virus when there are known positive cases in our schools. Some argue that wearing a mask hinders students’ social and emotional skills. A temporary mask mandate when there are positive cases is truly incomparable to the trauma these students will face with losing a friend, family member, teacher, or faculty member to COVID because protocols were naively not put in place.

Here I ask you, SAU 84, the school board, & the superintendent; what is it going to take for you to put your personal beliefs aside for the greater good of your primarily unvaccinated elementary school at the bare minimum? How about your immunocompromised staff and students? I sincerely hope it doesn’t take a student or faculty member landing in the ICU or dying from COVID to make you reconsider your decision to not mask your schools when you have positive cases in the schools. If last night’s decision was swayed because of the heavy presence of parents voicing their opinions on not masking; I hope you re-evaluate your role as a school board member. You are encouraged to listen to all sides before making a decision, but your choices, your vote or lack thereof matters and affects children. I hope that your choices last night were not merely to ensure a high voter turnout the next time your name is on the ballot. I hope you understand the implications of not making an entirely safe learning environment for your students. Above all though, I wish you understood the life-changing moment you made for families and students last night. Especially for the students who want to go to school and be with their friends, but will no longer get to because either they or their families don’t deem it safe.

Please allow me to clarify. I am not asking for a full mask mandate in our schools if there are no positive cases. We all want normalcy back and masks feel like a reminder that we aren’t there yet. I am advocating for a policy similar to the one in place last school year. A plan in which there is a threshold for positive cases per school that requires specific grades, classes, or schools to wear a mask for the CDC recommended amount of time following exposure.

As an educator and community member, I challenge you to not quit learning. Do your research that goes a bit further than the headlines. Call your primary care provider for any questions or concerns about COVID-19 or mask-wearing. Littleton Regional Healthcare is a wonderful resource with guidance, support, and factual information on this topic. Please, SAU 84, reconsider your choice to not put in place mask protocols with positive cases in your buildings.

Sincerely,

Susan Aubin

Littleton, N. H.

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(1) comment

Erin Talcott

Could not agree more. Very well said. Thank you.

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