Outdoor COVID Masking Requirement Revisited
By Anna Reinalda | November 15, 2021
The mask debate continued in full force at the latest Montgomery School Board meeting (as of press-time), with several parents coming forward during the public commentary segment.
Ania Wolecka-Jernigan of Belle Mead approached the podium, maskless, requesting students be allowed to remove their masks while outdoors. Jernigan had started an online petition to the board that had 211 signatures as of October 23. In support of her request, she cited child mortality statistics in instances of cancer, vehicular accidents, suicide, homicide, cardiovascular disease, drowning, and the flu.
According to her petition: “The Montgomery school district is forcing a policy to have our children wear masks out-doors during recess and gym.”
“Parents are seeking to understand what is driving these policies. 95 percent of adults and
one in two children 12 and over are vaccinated,” the petition continues. “We have not seen spikes in cases or hospitalization. There is no reason for our children to be masked, oxygen deprived, and not able to interact with their peers outdoors.”
Jernigan’s pleas to allow children to remove masks outdoors was seconded by two other
parents. One, Jennifer Dressler, a mother of a high school freshman, cited the petition, noting some of the signers were healthcare practitioners.
Paul Vecchione of Belle Mead also addressed the board. He asked: “Why are we relying on the Montgomery Board of Health – which is really one person – who wanted us to wear masks in Montgomery parks when COVID was at an all time low? Why not follow the suggestion of Gov Murphy, who says we have to wear masks indoors, but not outdoors?”
Vecchione talked over board members’ responses, interrupting: “If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask.”
Board members said Vecchione’s sentiment does not take into account the CDC’s recommendation that people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings.
The CDC also advises that wearing a mask does not protect the mask wearer, and rather protects the people around the mask-wearer. Meaning, if an immunocompromised person is wearing a mask among a group of non-mask wearers, they are not going to be very well protected from potential illness.
Francine Pfeffer, parent of a Montgomery student, spoke up in support of the outdoor masking policy.
Pfeffer, who is also associate director of government relations at the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), expressed disappointment that “some parents are ignoring the health and safety of others.”
In addition to fighting COVID, she said she is “fighting a pandemic of selfishness.”
“There are many children in our schools who are immunocompromised ... or have family members who are; there may be staff who are in that same situation. So instead of complaining, let’s think about everybody else who wants to send their children to school without the risk of severe illness to themselves or their family,” Pfeffer said.
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Children under 12 years of age have not yet been cleared to receive any of the COVID vaccines, Pfeffer added.
The parents’ statements fizzled to a non-response from the school board. Board members were mostly silent in response to both arguments, and eventually thanked and excused the parents without
changing the outdoor masking policy. ■