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School Board Ponders Masking Requirements as Students Prepare to Return to Class

By Barbara A. Preston l July 15, 2021 (updated 3 pm)


Will Montgomery Township schools require unvaccinated students to wear a mask while inside school? A parent got right down to business during the public comment section of the first in-person school board meeting since the pandemic began.

The Montgomery School Board met in person on July 13, with socially-distanced seating. The board had been meeting online via Zoom for 16 months, since March 2020.

The parent, Gabriela Zayova of Belle Mead, attended the meeting on Tuesday, July 13, to ask whether her six-year-old son would have to wear a mask in kindergarten. If he does, she will not enroll him, she said.


She also distributed printed copies of a "research letter" that concluded: "Masks increase carbon dioxide, and decrease oxygen," and mask wearing in children "leads to impairments attributable to hypercapnia." Excessive carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, or hypercapnia, is typically caused by inadequate respiration, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, can cause headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.


"This is not political," Zayova told the board members. "This is medical stuff. I know I am not a doctor, but this concerns me a lot. And I don't want to put my kid through all this. He's only six years old and this is just not okay."


The "research letter," published online on June 30, 2021 at jamapediatrics.com, suggests "decision-makers weigh the hard evidence produced by experimental measurements, which suggest that children should not be forced to wear face masks." The short-term study out of Germany included 45 children aged 6 to 17 years. After three minutes of mask-wearing, the letter claims younger children recorded higher levels of carbon dioxide.


Montgomery Health Officer Stephanie Carey explained that "a research letter is like a letter to the editor." This means JAMA did not endorse the study. "I am surprised JAMA published this at all," she said during a telephone interview with The Montgomery News. "It is an outlier."


The letter was clinically insignificant, she added, and pointed out the large number of responses from scientists who debunked it. Scientists say, on the JAMA site, that "Our children deserve better science;" "Flawed methodology;" "Unsafe conclusions;" and that the study is "biased."


In fact, the study was funded by “Mediziner und Wissenschaftler für Gesundheit, Freiheit und Demokratie eV” ( Doctors and Scientists for Health, Freedom and Democracy, eV), which according to a Google search, is an anti COVID-restriction advocacy organization that disseminates COVID-19 misinformation.


Montgomery School Board members and school officials are in the midst of discussing masking requirements now, and will make a decision based on science, she said. "I would recommend children under the age of 12 should be masked in school," she said.


It is important to note the top US health organization—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—continues to recommend people wear cloth face coverings in indoor settings where it's difficult to maintain social distancing. The CDC excludes children younger than 2. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers similar guidance for children in an updated face mask guidance, (Updated May 26, 2021).


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Right now, school boards in New Jersey have the authority to set the masking rules in their local districts. However, this could change as the school start date—September 9—gets closer.


Board President Phyllis Bursh said the board is "limited as to when it can come out with an official statement." The board is consulting with the Montgomery Health Department, with the school physician, and will be looking to the governor's office and NJ Education Department.


Parent Tells School Board She Will Not Enroll Child in School If Masks Are Mandated

Zayova, who spoke for about 10 minutes at the Montgomery School Board meeting, said she would wait until the school makes a decision on masking requirements. "If you make them wear masks, and do not let the parents choose, then, no, I'm not going to enroll him," she said.


"I don't want him to start kindergarten like this," she said. "Being scared what the rules are. It's a lot for our kids to have to wear a mask—not to see other kids faces, or how they are reacting. Are they smiling? Are they mad at me? They don't know. They can't see the faces.


"And, also, my kids haven't worn masks in a long time because I found a daycare that lets the parents choose. And, there are no COVID cases. It's a big school, over 200 kids, and there are no cases. And, there are so many adults vaccinated now.


"Kids were supposed to wear masks to protect their grandparents. Why are they still wearing masks? Grandparents got their shots. Come on. Let's just stop it if you can. I'm not sure what (the school board's) decision is on this. But I'm not going to enroll him if it's mandatory."


Federal Lawsuit Against Mask Mandates for Children

The Montgomery parent is not alone in her worries and concerns. A group of NJ parents and students filed a federal lawsuit this week against Gov. Phil Murphy and other officials claiming that COVID-19 rules requiring students to wear a mask in public schools are a violation of their constitutional rights, according to NJSpotlight.

  • Among the claims in the lawsuit is that masks restrict students’ free speech, impairing communication with classmates and teachers by denying those who wear them access to facial expressions and other non-verbal clues.

  • The lawsuit, filed by Princeton attorney Bruce Afran, acknowledges that Murphy rescinded the mandate at the end of June, but challenges both his delegating the decision to local officials and his right to reimpose a mandate should health conditions worsen in the fall.

  • Another count of the lawsuit challenges the state on the issue of testing for COVID-19, seeking a court declaration that any testing must be conducted only with the express written approval of parents.

Montgomery School Board President Bursh acknowledged that if Montgomery students are permitted to attend class mask-free in September, the district "honestly, would not know if someone (over the age of 12) is not vaccinated. So we cannot really control whether they wear a mask."


Montgomery Township and Rocky Hill have one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, as of July 5. Numbers provided by the Montgomery Health Department.


91 percent of Montgomery adults have at least one dose. 55 percent of Montgomery kids (12 to 17) have at least one dose. 94 percent of Rocky Hill adults have at least one dose 58 percent of Rocky Hill kids (12-17) have at least one dose

"There is a hope that the majority of people being vaccinated will protect everybody else,"

— Phyllis Bursh, Montgomery School Board president.

Montgomery schools are scheduled to open on September 9 for in-person learning.

Eligible Students Should Start Vaccine Process by August 5

Montgomery Township Deputy Health Officer Devangi Patel says parents who want their eligible children to be fully vaccinated by the September 9, the first day of school in Montgomery, should start the vaccine process by August 5.


The CVS at 2311 Route 206 in Belle Mead is offering the Pfizer vaccine daily, with appointments required. You can make your appointment online now.


Patel encourages parents with questions about the vaccine to talk to their child’s healthcare provider or to the Montgomery Health Department at 908.533.9331.

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