Long Beach schools offer students maskless alternative

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Most parents in the Long Beach School District appear to have made peace with the idea that their children will wear masks in class. But about a dozen have opted out, choosing a special maskless program.

At a stormy school board meeting in August, a few weeks before school began, about 200 parents gathered at Lindell Elementary School, many of them voicing strong opposition to masks. But the state’s new governor, Kathy Hochul, had already mandated mask-wearing in New York schools.

The Board of Education voted, 4 to 1, to conform to the governor’s mandate. The lone “no” vote came from Trustee Sam Pinto. He has not explained his vote.

While students and faculty members must wear masks in all school buildings, there is an alternative for parents who do not want to send their children to school with masks.

A virtual alternate instructional program is now offered from 3 to 5 p.m. each day to students whose parents have opted them out of mask-wearing, though only about a dozen families have joined the program thus far.

Teachers have also been asked to make sure students are outside for at least two periods a day.

“Our buildings are doing lots of outdoor activities to give students substantial mask breaks during the day and quick mask breaks during class,” district Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Gallagher said. “During days of beautiful weather, you can see students eating lunch outside, having phys. ed. classes on our fields and playgrounds and reading under the trees.”

Gallagher also said that measures have been taken indoors as well, and she has been impressed with the adjustments that the schools and students have made.

“Students are sitting three feet from each other in class and six feet during lunch or when masks are off indoors,” Gallagher said. “Overall, when I visit students in our buildings, I see happy children engaged in learning. Our children are resilient and have adjusted well.”

A mask can slide down below a nose, fall off or move around in ways that do not align with how it is supposed to be worn. Having to wear one for long periods can make students  reluctant to do so.

But, Gallagher said, “We have had no issues with mask refusal. If students forget, we have masks available everywhere. Gentle reminders are all that is needed.”

Gallagher said she believed there were good points on both sides of the mask-mandate argument, and added that all parents want the best for their children.

The students have taken part in in-person, virtual and hybrid classes throughout the pandemic.

High school junior Alexandra Mackenzie said she favored in-person learning, and believed the school had done a good job of incorporating the state mandates. “The school takes care of the [changes] well,” Mackenzie said. “It’s far better than learning online.”

Parent Teacher Association Co-president Tami Ackerman said the school year had gone smoothly so far. “Everything has been smooth as can be expected for school opening, with some things still uncertain with Covid,” Ackerman said. “We had full confidence in our school administrators and teachers, and look forward to a smooth year.”

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