The question of masks in schools will be handed from the state to the Cheshire School District, to individuals over the next few days.
That’s according to Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan, who announced the District’s decision to go mask-optional beginning next week — the right choice, this publication believes, at this stage of the pandemic. For two years now, state and federal mandates have dictated what actions individuals can and cannot take, and while we can and most certainly will spend the next few decades arguing over how effective those mandates were overall, there’s no doubt that such requirements, regardless of their efficiency, have a shelf life.
We began to see the cracks in mandates fairly early on, with a certain segment of the population resisting at a time when the vast majority of the country seemed on board with even some of the more extreme measures taken to stop the spread of the virus. As the threat from that virus has declined and our ability to personally protect ourselves and loved ones from it has increased, the more resistance to mandates has grown. Letting people choose for themselves how they want to approach this new world, where COVID-19 is a part of our lives and showing no signs of ever ceasing to exist, is not only appropriate, but in many ways necessary.
The Town of Cheshire is, as The Herald is reporting this week, following suit, going back to a mask-optional model next week, and the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) has also decided to remove the requirement that athletes wear masks during competition. While the pandemic has taught us never to become too complacent and to always expect the unexpected, it does appear as if a turning point has been reached. It feels as if the end of the mask mandates signal the end of the emergency phase of this public health crisis.
That doesn’t mean things are returning immediately to the way they were. At Thursday’s BOE meeting, officials decided to abruptly end public comments regarding the masks after a member of the public became confrontational as he addressed the group.
It is predictable that emotions would remain high at this moment, and that last Thursday served as an opportunity for parents to vent certain frustrations, though when it comes specifically to the issue of masking it must be pointed out that, up until this moment, the District had no real say on the matter. Yet, frustrations don’t justify unruly and uncivil behavior and it’s disappointing that one member of the public decided to use his time at the podium to lash out at the Board and Superintendent, rather than calmly but forcefully explain his concerns, exactly as so many before him had done.
Yet, we also sympathize with those disappointed by the BOE decision to end public comment after a brief, unscheduled recess. While it was certainly appropriate to cut off that one individual, we’re less certain that it was necessary to end the discussion completely. The public has the right to speak, the right to criticize the BOE, and the right to express frustration. Whether members of the BOE felt those criticisms were warranted or not, they represent the feelings of a certain segment of parents, and need to be heard.
But what the atmosphere in Council Chambers last Thursday shows is that the community, the country, indeed the world, all have a long way to go to get back to “normal.” There continues to be a lot of anger out there, and while the pandemic often brought out the best in people, it also deepened some of the divides that already existed.
Throughout the pandemic, we were told that we are “all in this together.” It’s been true the last two years. It remains true as we enter our post-pandemic world. Hopefully, this time, we can actually come together, and that starts with respecting one another, even those with whom we disagree.