Tupper parents ask school board to lift mask requirements

School board says it will follow state’s guidance

TUPPER LAKE — A group of local parents and grandparents are asking the Tupper Lake school board to not require students to wear masks when school resumes in the fall, even if it means losing state aid. If the state requires masks because of the Delta variant — which a recent study has shown can be transmitted even by vaccinated people — the board is unlikely to take them up on this request.

When classes were held in person this past school year, students were required to wear masks at all times. As vaccines were distributed and the severity of the pandemic lessened in the spring, so did mask rules. By the end of the school year, students could take them off outside.

Now, the Delta variant of the coronavirus is the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S., infecting mostly those who are not vaccinated but with rare “breakthrough” infections happening among the vaccinated population, too. The vaccines largely prevent serious illness. Children under the age of 12 are not approved for vaccination as of yet.

There are 40 days until public schools are back in session in New York, but discussions over mask guidelines for students are already in full swing.

There is currently no updated mask guidance from the state for the upcoming school year. In the past, these decisions have been made last-minute and change as time goes on.

Currently, Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Russ Bartlett said summer school students are required to be masked except when outside or seated in class, per the latest guidelines released in July.

The request

On Monday, Bobbi Jo Facteau, who said she represents a local group called “Together We Stand,” told the board it breaks her heart to see kids in masks. Her five children have graduated from the Tupper Lake Central School District and she has grandchildren in the school system now.

“Walking around with a mask on their face all day long is doing mental damage to these children,” Facteau said. “Take a stand. Let these kids come to school without masks.”

Masks are safe to wear for most people. Dr. Raed Dweik, of Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute, said in a statement late last year that there is “virtually no circumstance that warrants” an exemption from mask-wearing, and there is no evidence of CO2 retention, nor impacts of CO2 retention from wearing a mask.

On Tuesday, Bartlett said nobody loves the masks and that he’d like to go back to normal, but the district will continue to follow the state’s laws and what is safest for its students during the pandemic.

“I’m not here to put any of our kids or teachers in any more risk than they need to be,” Bartlett said. “Whatever the medical professionals are telling me is the best practice, then that’s what we’re going to do. … That information is coming from people who are smarter than I.”

He also said students have been strong.

“What I saw are kids that are so much more resilient and adaptable than we gave them credit for,” Bartlett said.

Tupper Lake is filled with people with many different opinions on masks, he added.

“I’ve fielded probably about half a dozen phone calls between yesterday afternoon and this morning from people who feel pretty strongly that we should continue to wear masks,” he said Tuesday.

At the meeting, Tupper Lake parent Laurie Dukett said she has an adopted daughter who came from an abusive home. Dukett said the mask sets her back in terms of her trauma recovery.

The response

School Board President Jane Whitmore told Facteau, “We’re not going to break state law.”

Facteau believes the government has “no authority” to mandate masks.

If the district disregards these mandates it could lose its state aid, which it relies on to fund education.

Facteau said this is “putting a price tag on children” and asked the board to not mandate masks, even if it means losing state aid.

“We have other options,” Facteau said. “I’ve seen this community come together for people who are sick in a matter of minutes and raise a phenomenal amount of money.”

Both board members and Bartlett said this is not an option.

“I don’t know of too many Tupper Lake residents who would jump out of their seats and quadruple their taxes,” School board member Wayne Davison said.

“There are other options than public school,” Facteau said, adding that she would spend the “last penny in my pocket” to keep kids from needing to wear masks in school.

COVID claims

Facteau made several false or inaccurate claims about the coronavirus during the meeting.

“The CDC is a private corporation,” Facteau said.

This is false. The CDC is a federal agency. This inaccurate claim is based on misinformation about the CDC Foundation that has circulated on social media, starting last year.

The CDC Foundation is a private nonprofit organization that financially supports the CDC. It is separate from the federal agency. In 2020, its contributions constituted less than 1% of the CDC’s budget.

Facteau said, “99.98% of people recover from COVID.”

Worldwide, the World Health Organization reports 198,778,175 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,235,559 deaths, creating an estimated mortality rate of 2%, though these figures do not tell the whole story, leaving out people who survived the virus, or did not, but were never tested for COVID-19.

One in ten people infected with the virus also experience lasting symptoms, which can be minor or severe.

In the U.S., coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 600,000 people.

Facteau said of the approximately 51,000 people living in Franklin County there are 12 dead from COVID-19. There have been 17 deaths linked to COVID-19 in Franklin County, according to Franklin County Public Health.

“Every life matters. Don’t get me on that,” she said. “Every life is precious, but out of those 12 people, they were all over 75 (years old).”

Franklin County Public Health typically does not release information that could identify someone killed by the virus — such as a person’s age, gender, town of residence or name — because of federal health privacy laws, so it is unclear where she got this statistic.

Deaths from COVID-19 have spanned different age groups. In May, a 22-year-old living in Lake Placid died from complications from the coronavirus.

The topic of masks in schools will likely be discussed more by this school board and others in the weeks leading into the school year.

“Are you going to stand with us so we can unite?” Facteau asked the board. “We are going to fight. We are going to say ‘no.’ And we would like the support of your board and every member here.”

After she spoke, there was a 10-second silence, then the public comment session concluded.


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