DAGSBORO — The Indian River School District is set to gauge the opinions of its parents and staff regarding the wearing of masks in school.
A one-question phone survey, to be given to families and employees next week, will ask: What face covering protocols should the Indian River School District implement in its schools?
Survey participants will choose one of the following three responses:
Survey results may be addressed at the next school board meeting, 7 p.m. Dec. 20 at Sussex Central High School.
The crux of the issue, said IRSD board member James Fritz, is that masks should be optional, not mandatory.
“No one is saying that someone can’t wear a mask if they want. We had them optional all through summer school. And didn’t have any problems,” he said. “No one is saying no masks at all. Just let it be optional.”
IRSD Superintendent Dr. Jay Owens said that, since the beginning of the school year, the district has been operating under a regulation from Gov. John Carney that requires all individuals, kindergarten and older, to wear face coverings in Delaware public schools. The governor recently extended this requirement until at least Feb. 8.
The paramount question: Is the district’s board of education willing to go against the state mandate?
“That is what I would think the direction of the board will be, absolutely,” said Mr. Fritz. “The problem is that most school districts in the state go along with this because they just go along with it. They don’t think for themselves. And it comes the time when a school district needs to stand up and put an end to all the craziness and hypocrisy going on in the state and around the country.”
The mask debate has been the subject of much public commentary by IRSD residents during the pandemic.
“Someone, please make a motion … to make masking optional or to develop punishments for not wearing them similar to those of employees not testing,” urged Selbyville resident Dr. Molli Carter, a mother of two Indian River students, during the board’s Monday meeting.
Parent Jenn Hurd said it makes no sense that for numerous other indoor venues — supermarkets, retail stores, bars, concerts, etc. — there is no mask mandate, but there is in schools.
“Can’t we just go with an option? Enough is enough. Do we have to get on our knees to this board? Is that what we have to do? My kids don’t deserve this,” she said. “Step up. Please, we are begging you.”
Board member Dr. Donald Hattier is in favor of the upcoming survey.
“I do think that something like this to see where all the parents stand — and I certainly know where these folks are going to stand — it behooves us to send out something like this,” he said.
Some parents have said the masking requirement is causing great harm to their children.
“I noticed my daughter’s depression start last year when she was isolated (and) remote learning,” said Alicea Carroll, whose daughter is an eighth grader at Millsboro Middle School. “She tried to do the hybrid, and she would come home upset from the mask all day, so we took her out of that. She was excited to go back to school this year because she could at least be around all her friends. She comes home constantly with headaches, a sore throat. She is tired. She is fatigued. We all know why that happens. It’s due to lack of oxygenated blood.”
Ms. Carroll continued, “All of these mandates are in place until the national emergency ends. Yet, that goal post is constantly being moved. They tell us to follow the science. Science is proving that masks do not work; vaccination doesn’t work. Children are masked all day in school. Teachers are masked, but the cases are still happening. But our children are suffering mentally, physically and emotionally. My child cannot be continued to be held hostage. When does it end? Our children are pawns, and this is not fair to them. How long are we going to allow this to happen to our children?”
Kelsie Morin, a senior at Indian River High School, offered a student’s perspective.
“Headaches, anxiety, depression, this mask is not helping anybody. I know multiple children and people (suffering, and) … it’s not helping in schools. It’s just not helping us. We’re not focused. We’re fatigued. We’re tired. We come home with headaches, … don’t want to do schoolwork. We’re only focused on these masks,” she said.
“For a kid who likes school and likes to learn, I don’t want to go to school because I know that as soon as I walk in, I have to put this on again. Frankly, I walk in without one, and I am asked to put one on every day. I am not afraid to keep it down. I will keep wearing it down until we have a choice to keep it off or wear one.”
Jake Buchler has made his concerns about the vaccination mandate for educators and mask rules public, protesting outside Lord Baltimore Elementary School, where he is a kindergarten teacher.
“I have been protesting outside of LB before school every single day. I cannot tell you the overwhelming majority of thumbs-up and honks I get. A couple other people are holding up a different finger. But that’s OK. It doesn’t hurt me,” he said. “When we are afraid to speak up, and we lose that freedom, we are going to lose our free society. A lot of people talk about the vaccines and stuff. It is your own personal choice, and we need to honor that.”
Rebecca Dean of Milton said her child also is experiencing headaches due to masking, a mandate she said is unconstitutional. Ms. Dean also informed the board of a peaceful protest Saturday at Beebe Healthcare in Lewes. The protest is scheduled from 9-11 a.m.
“Because of these unconstitutional mandates, … we are standing up for nurses, state employees, teachers, health care workers, city workers, students, unions and Americans,” Ms. Dean said.
Public meeting agenda protocol
Some parents were hoping the board would act on the mask issue at this week’s meeting.
However, the board opted to hold off until survey results are gathered, and possible board action was placed on the Dec. 20 agenda.
This decision stemmed from a Sept. 27 Delaware attorney general’s ruling on a petition filed by William Pickett. The ruling stated that the IRSD board violated the Freedom of Information Act by holding two votes at its Aug. 22 meeting without providing proper notice to the public.
One vote, a 9-1 tally, was to express “no confidence” in the governor, and the second, a 10-0 vote, was to petition the Delaware Department of Education for a change in its emergency order on masks in schools.
“We were asked tonight to vote on masks/no masks. But given the fact that the governor got all upset with us over voting ‘no confidence,’ and it came out as a FOIA (violation), in order to follow proper protocol, if you will, I think having a survey like this is good,” said Dr. Hattier at Monday’s meeting.
“It will give us an understanding of where our parents and staff stand. Then, based on the results of this, I am hoping we can get this done by December, the December board meeting. At which point, if we are going to vote on a mask, at that time, it should be placed into the agenda. I don’t know that we can do it legally any other way.”
Mr. Fritz agreed that the board should follow proper protocols.
“I know there is a lot of parents in here right now who would love to hear a vote be taken, and I am one of them,” he said. “However, understand (the) workings of organizations, political organizations, school boards, … the legalities. I think the proper way is to do a survey and have it back in time for the December board meeting. You’ve got more friends up here than you have enemies, that’s for sure. So don’t think that you are not being supported or that there is pushback.
“And this will go either side. I think the survey is important no matter how you feel on masks,” he added. “I represent my constituents. I don’t represent Gov. Carney or the Department of Education. It’s important to hear from the constituents on this.”