Massena superintendent stresses need for mask use

Shelly Matthes-Bell shared her concerns about masking with members of the Massena Central School Board of Education. She also shared those concerns during a virtual meeting with district administrators. Screenshot

MASSENA — A Massena parent who had shared her concerns about wearing face masks with the Massena Central School District’s Board of Education reiterated her concerns during last week’s virtual reopening meeting for parents, guardians and staff members.

Appearing before the school board, Shelly Matthes-Bell cited studies that she said suggested both medical and non-medical face masks were ineffective in blocking human-to-human transmission of viral and infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

In addition, she said, there were “legitimate health concerns” for some children wearing masks when it wasn’t necessary.

“We’ve been maskless all summer. People have been playing sports. We participate in sports, close-contact sports. There’s concerts. The fair is going on. People are out there at the fair touching these rides, They’re not making them sanitize before and after getting off these rides. They’re sitting right next to each other. There’s Major League sporting events. They’re not wearing masks at these places, so why are we doing this to our children?” she told school board members.

She shared similar concerns during Thursday’s virtual reopening meeting with Superintendent Patrick H. Brady and other administrators.

“Why can our children walk into a restaurant, sit down and eat dinner maskless and sit down in a movie theater maskless but are required to wear a mask when seated at school?” she wrote in the comments section, where questions and concerns were addressed by the administrators.

Mr. Brady said public schools have their own mission and guidance.

“The CDC put out specific language for public schools to follow. The Department of Health put out specific language for public schools to follow,” he said. “And the governor, in her first address this week, spent much of her time talking about public schools because this is where students and staff come together, so there’s a different nature to this and different rules for restaurants than there are for public schools.”

Ms. Matthes-Bell said she had offered articles and research regarding negative health effects of masking during the recent school board meeting.

“Not a single member reached out to me for this information. Isn’t it a bit negligent to make decisions without considering all the information?” she asked.

Mr. Brady said he realized others have done their own research and had their own viewpoints.

“We appreciate the viewpoints that people are providing and understand they’re doing what they feel they need to do to protect themselves and their families,” he said. “But, as I outlined tonight, we’re going to follow the Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention) and New York State Education Department and local public health for making decisions. On top of that, we received a mandate from the governor this week that masks will be worn in New York state public schools.”

Ms. Matthes-Bell also asked, “Who will be responsible for ensuring that our children’s masks remain bacteria and fungi free once they are in the school’s care?”

Mr. Brady said they would have a regular disinfecting and cleaning schedule for desks in the rooms and would ensure areas were kept clean.

“Beyond that, I’m sure that teachers, especially for the younger ones, will be reminding students of appropriate mask care. I would again ask parents to have a conversation with their children about masks, including how to take care of those during the day,” he said.

He said he realized mask wearing was “an area of division and concern.”

“But masks are one of those preventative factors and one of the areas that we were able to keep it from spreading last year in our schools and will continue this year,” Mr. Brady said. “I know no one wants to wear a mask. None of us here do. I know our students don’t. I know our families, especially for the younger ones. But it is a way that we can, one, stop the transmission and two, limit the quarantining that might be done if we do have a positive case where we’re possibly not quarantining whole classrooms, but only a few students in those classrooms.”

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