Oceanside school board hosts mask debate


With the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus on the rise across the country, school districts are preparing their protocols for the fast approaching 2021-22 school year. The trustees of the Oceanside Board of Education hosted a special meeting Aug. 17 to give parents the chance to comment on mask-wearing in school.

As the parents sat back down after the Pledge of Allegiance that opened the meeting, one audience member exclaimed, “It’s still a free country!”

Before opening the floor to the large audience, the president of the Board of Education, Jane McGrath-Mulhern, urged the crowd to give both sides the opportunity to make their voices heard. “There will be no interruptions of the people making their statements, whether you agree or disagree with them,” McGrath-Mulhern said. “They have the right to speak as you do.”

Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Harrington followed with a presentation on policies already decided on by the board for the new school year. Harrington said the district would reopen to in-person classes Sept. 1, with schools returning to pre-pandemic arrival and dismissal times and reinstating all extracurricular activities.

“If there’s one thing we all know and agree on is that kids need to be in school,” Harrington said. “Learning is a contact sport.” The schools will not be hosting any full-remote learning programs for students. Additionally, clear barriers and shields used last year have been removed, while increased cleaning and disinfection measures will return.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended “universal indoor masking by all students (ages 2 and older), staff teachers and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status” in its Aug. 5 Work and School Update, citing the highly contagious Delta variant. Nassau County is currently listed as a high-risk transmission area.

“If there are people who wish to send their children to school in a mask, it doesn’t bother me,” Amanda said, gesturing to the crowd. She did not give her first name.

Joanna Levitt has a child at School No. 3 who is immunocompromised and thus stayed home last year. Levitt said she kept her child home on the advice of her immunologist, who said that if her child contracted the virus, “it would not be good.”

“Personally, I don’t think it’s anyone’s right to put my child at risk,” Levitt said.

“It’s been mentioned a couple of times tonight that kids don’t die from Covid—that it’s such an infinitesimal percentile,” Katie Wilkins, a parent to and incoming kindergartner, said. “I’m confused. As a parent, I do not understand when we started having the line in the sand being death.”

“The decision here is not about masks. It’s about choice.” Steven Weinberg, a parent of two children at School No. 5, said. “The fact that the government, the board and the CDC is touching our children’s’ faces quite literally is unacceptable.”

“It’s my choice, my decision what my children will and won’t do,” Randi Weinberg Steven’s wife, said. “My children will not be wearing masks.” Weinberg criticized the board’s communication, accusing members of “hiding behind government entities” during the decision-making process.

“My children will enter School No. 5 on Sept. 1 without masks,” Weinberg said. “My job is to advocate for my kids—to love and protect and support them. Your job is to teach them—nothing more. This ends now.”

“Right now, we need to digest all of this and figure out what we need to do,” McGrath-Mulhern said.

Harrington said the board would vote on the proposed plan for masks by its next regular meeting Aug. 31.