Parents Appeal to Un-Mask Pleasantville School District Students

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Students wearing face coverings in schools has become a flashpoint at Boards of Education across the United States. Recently, two mothers made an emotional appeal to Pleasantville school officials to unmask the district’s students, especially the youngest children.

Addressing the Board of Education during at a recent public hearing on the district safety code was Mandy Yasinski and Ellen Norton, two of the 63 signees of an online petition titled “Parents in Pleasantville School District Support to Lift Mask Mandate in School.”

Yasinski, a mother of four children attending high school and middle school, pressed for answers, especially since new COVID-19 cases among students in the district are negligible. Last week the district reported no positive cases.

“What are the parameters from the (Department of Health) to justify the use of emergency mask measures in schools? Is there a threshold that would trigger an end to the masking?” Yasinski asked.

Last August the state Health Department issued an emergency regulation requiring all students in public or private schools, along with faculty and staff, to wear masks inside school buildings. The mandate followed the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.

Yasinski cited a large-scale study published by the CDC last year that covered more than 90,000 elementary school students in 169 schools in Georgia. The first of its kind, the study was inconclusive. It found no clear benefit for masking requirements for students without also studying mitigation measures such as improved ventilation systems and social distancing.

In her executive summary last summer, Superintendent of Schools Mary Fox-Alter wrote that the district would be maximizing the capacity of its air handling units, roof-top units and/or classroom vents. It installed high-quality MERV filters, which goes beyond the state requirement.

In the middle school, where there were older systems in some of the original classrooms, the district installed HEPA air handling purification units.

“I am looking for reliable scientific evidence,” Yasinski told the board.

She cited the Food and Drug Administration’s April 2020 statement about Emergency Use Authorization relating to non-surgical face masks saying “labeling should not state or imply that the product is intended for antimicrobial or antiviral protection or related uses or is for use such as infection prevention or reduction, nor should it be used for particulate filtration.”

“Masks do not kill viruses,” Yasinski said. “And misrepresenting the use for masks intended for antimicrobial or antiviral protection is deceptive.”

Norton, the mother of three young children, two in elementary school and one in preschool, criticized the negative consequences of young children wearing masks, with some having difficulty learning to read.

“Imagine trying to learn how to read when you can’t see the teacher’s face,” Norton said. “That’s a great impediment to my children’s learning. So there is a failure happening.”

Crediting the district for making what she called a “valiant effort” to educate children, she added “We all have the same objective. However, it must be said how our children are getting the short end of the stick this entire time.”

Fox-Alter said she respected both women’s questions and added that the district had to follow the original mask mandate ordered by the governor and the state Education Department and shared by all agencies including the Westchester Department of Health.

“However, I do agree with you and many here agree with you that your questions about metrics are all incredibly valid and that some level of understanding of when and how long this will continue. That’s an important question,” Fox-Alter said.

While Fox-Alter said the district will follow the law, it has been in contact with the county health department and the state about testing protocols. Other professional organizations are asking the state the same questions.

Fox-Alter offered to share both women’s information with County Executive George Latimer and with other professional organizations she meets with regularly.


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