Parents and community members came out on Aug. 19 on both sides of the mask issue as the Vernon Township School District Board of Education complied with Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 251 requiring masks be worn inside school buildings.
Superintendent Karen D’Avino said anecdotal date put vaccinated district employees between 80 and 90 percent vaccinated.
“That was done to protect our children, our district’s most valuable asset,” she said.
She also said about 40 percent of Vernon’s high school students are vaccinated and about 20 percent at Glen Meadow Middle School.
“I am aware of the concerns with mask wearing and the challenges associated with wearing a mask for a prolonged period of time,” D’Avino said.
According to the New Jersey Dept. of Health, Sussex County is still in a “Yellow” zone, which indicates a moderate risk for COVID-19 spread. Only the eastern sliver of the state, closest to New York City is Orange, indicating a “high” risk of spread.
Former Board of Education member Natalie Buccieri questioned why governor’s mask mandate was just for schools and not all indoor spaces, calling it “arbitrary” and said it was hurting the children.
The board did not on Aug. 19 follow the example of other districts and submit a resolution opposing the mask mandate.
“I know masks are not required at the mall and food stores and that can be frustrating, but I’d rather have our students in school with masks than not here,” D’Avino said.
Sara Werner of Highland Lakes said she believed adults are having more issues with the mandate than the children are, and she compared mask wearing to not sending peanut butter as her child’s lunch because a peanut allergy can be deadly to a student with a severe enough allergy.
“I do that for the community,” Werner said.
Amanda Reeker of Glenwood commended the masked school board for showing respect and not dismissing the mandate due to their personal beliefs.
She said she’s had to wear a mask for seven hours during chemotherapy.
“Your ability to breathe (during chemo) is already pretty low,” she said. “I can wear a mask with no problem. The majority of people can. People who can’t wear masks, including most children, have very severe health issues to begin with.”
Terry Griffin, a fifth-grade teacher at Lounsberry Hollow school, said students didn’t have a problem with the masks last year.
“They were fine,” he said. “It was nice in June when we were able to take them off. They didn’t have a problem with them. Our focus should be on keeping the school open and keeping the students alive.”
Sugeny Guzman kept her children as virtual students during 2020-21 and said she would like the option for virtual learning if there is a mask mandate. There is no virtual option for students this year.
She also asked what the difference is between September and June.
D’Avino said the whole state was “green”, which indicated a “low” risk of COVID-19 spread, in June, and now the entire state is yellow due to the virulence of the Delta variant., which makes up about 80 percent of Sussex County’s cases.
The district plans to encourage the use of outdoor learning for as long as possible, as masks are only required indoors.
“I know it gets cold up here quickly,” D’Avino said. “But we’re going to maximize our outdoor space.”