The Cheshire Board of Education announced Thursday night that they will be requiring all school children to wear a mask when they return this year, despite objections from some parents.
“It is our intent to have all students in school everyday, and we are proud of that fact,” said School Superintendent Jeff Solan. “You might have seen that we have started to put back up the tents outside for eating and social distancing. We will be requiring masks...which has come from a mandate down from the governor and we will be complying with that.”
Solan and Board Chairman Anthony Perugini then called upon Chesprocott Health Director Maura Esposito to answer questions from board members. Faith Ham was the first to pose questions to Esposito.
“...How many deaths (from COVID-19) have we had?” she asked.
“I think around 53,” Esposito answered.
“What I am trying to get to is that this virus is not killing people at the same rate that it was, so how do you reconcile this mask mandate?” Ham asked.
“These decisions are above me, I don’t make the decisions around the mask mandate,” Esposito answered. “What we are about is prevention and this is a novel virus.”
“Well then, will masking be required for illnesses like croup and the flu?” Ham asked.
“I don't know, there is not a lot of information on this virus whereas we have a wealth of information on those other viruses,” Esposito responded.
“(Maura), do we know if the mandate comes directly from Governor Lamont?” asked Board member Adam Grippo.
“Yes it does,” Esposito answered.
“What I am trying to get at here is that it is my understanding that we do not have the authority to rescind the (mask mandate) order?” Grippo asked.
Perugini said that Grippo was correct, and that if the town violates the order, it could face fines.
After the discussion with Esposito, Peruguini opened up the meeting to public comment. Multiple parents and students voiced their concerns about wearing masks in school.
”What I really would like to do is ask each and every one of you how you personally feel about this mandate and if you would mask your kids?” Robert Brucato asked. “None of you have been able to provide us adequate proof, Maura came up and gave us no proof. Maura, stop scaring us, you don’t have the right to do this.”
Local business owner and parent Chris Constanti came to the podium and asked the school board who is responsible for enforcing the mandate.
“If we choose to send our kids to school without a mask then who’s going to enforce it?” he asked. “It’s an executive order, not a law...The health department tries to shut my restaurant down because I don’t wear a mask, they asked me to close, I didn’t close and nothing happened.”
Constanti went on to ask Solan and board members if they are receiving federal funds to enforce the mask mandate. They responded “no”
Amy Bourdon, a representative from the group called “Parents Choice” also asked Esposito a question. The group advocates for the right for parents to decide whether children wear masks in school.
“What do you have to say about the fact that Wolcott has allowed for parents' choice, they’re in our health district?” Bourdon asked.
“I don't know, I was just made aware of this,” Esposito said. “I am on an email with all the superintendents and I did not know about this.”
After the public comment, one individual in the audience asked the school board to share their views on the issue.
“Personally, this is a really tricky situation,” said Board member Tim White. “I am for parents' choice, but I don’t want anyone to get sick or die, that is not what I want. I hate this, I really do.”
As of now, all Cheshire Public School students will be required to wear masks on the first day of school. The board agreed to look into any legal challenges they might be able to mount against the state regarding masks, but reiterated that at this point they are going to follow the guidance from the state.