By Jerome Reuter
DERRY – From the earliest days of democracy, people have been gathering in public forums to articulate their thoughts and have them heard by their peers in an orderly fashion. Sadly, this was not that case during a recent meeting of the Derry Cooperative School District. The proposal to make masking mandatory for all students at the start of the school year incited animosity and hostility from parents. More than once, the board asked the attendees to not applaud, keep quiet while others were speaking, and above all, maintain a respectable decorum.
The meeting began with Dr. Chris Peterson, a pediatrician and advisor to the school board on several health issues involving children. He presented a brief slide show and explained the importance of getting the vaccine and continuing to wear a mask unless medically prohibited from doing so. To prove his point, Dr. Peterson included data form a study conducted in China which showed that wearing masks indoors reduced the virus’ spread by up to 80%.
Peterson’s calm demeanor of his presentation met with outright hostility from some parents almost immediately. One of the first attendees to speak up began by saying “Everyone pushing this CDC narrative and talk down approach to what we should be doing, you should be ashamed of yourselves.” He continued with “If you want to muzzle your kids, put them in a classroom with all muzzled kids…you have no right to take our kids’ freedom.” He wasn’t alone in this sediment.
“I’m here standing up for my child and all the other children who don’t have a voice right now” another attendee declared. “no child should be made to do something that is so detrimental to them for no good reason…medical decisions are being taken away from parents.” Many parents echoed this perspective, that the mandate was a violation of their rights, and that the school board who were overstepping their bounds as educators. One parent made it a point to announce that he was unvaccinated. “You’re bullying parents, you’re boxing us in a corner” he claimed “I’m not vaccinated and you’re all in the room with me.”
That’s not to say that everyone in attendance was against the mask mandate. Some parents were more than willing to adhere to the school boards’ mandate. “I was more than bummed when the delta variant came out.” One parent admitted. “But I rolled with the punches because that’s how science works…I wish that’s what more people would do.” One attendee was quite blunt about why he supported the mask mandate. “There’s a doctor in the room. There’re teachers in the room. When I want advice about teaching, I go to teachers. When I want advice about medical, I go to the doctor.”
Before the school board voted, they had the chance to address some of the concerns raised over the course of the meeting. “Vaccines work, viruses spread indiscriminately. I can tell you that when I came in here not knowing how I was going to vote…I sat here being told I should be ashamed of myself.” A collective hush filled the room. “Attacking the position is one thing, but attacking one another is just sad and unnecessary.” The mask mandate passed, prompting most of the crowd to leave the room.