DERRY — With school opening next week, officials have updated the reopening plan that will now put masks on staff and students.

Earlier this summer, the Derry Cooperative School District's reopening plan had made the wearing of masks optional, but with new information and rising cases, officials are now requiring them.

At a School Board meeting Aug. 17, the public was very vocal on both sides of the issue, with some saying masks are taking away personal freedoms for families, while others supported the measure.

Superintendent MaryAnn Connors-Krikorian said recent data and information from local, state and federal officials led to the new policy.

"We continue to adjust based on the level of transmission," Connors-Krikorian said. 

The change in mask policy came after transmission levels reached a certain point based on a district matrix put in place to gauge coronavirus cases, the superintendent added.

Masks will be required while students and staff are indoors, but will remain optional outdoors.

Connors-Krikorian reiterated the plan would be "subject to change" throughout the school year.

Local pediatrician Dr. Christopher Peterson, serving in an advisory role to the Derry School District, said the goal of the district is to prevent any school shutdowns and to encourage vaccinations.

"Masks, I see, are the only really avenue to attaining that goal," Peterson said. "We are in a substantial spread situation."

Peterson noted that other communities and their school districts were making specific decisions on reopening based on their own numbers of cases and transmission levels.

"And the delta variant is twice as contagious as to what we dealt with last year," Peterson said. "We have been flexible and adapted to the information and what we are seeing on the ground."

But many coming to the meeting and speaking out were frustrated and very vocal about the updates when it comes to masks, with some saying the district was "muzzling" their children and taking away a family's personal freedom to make medical decisions for their children.

With many outbursts during the recent meeting, school board chairman Erika Cohen had to pause the discussion several times are remind those attending to be respectful of others' opinions.

Many speaking out against masking cited information, statistics, and personal views on what the school district should be allowed to do. Some threatened to pull their children out of the Derry public school system,

One West Running Brook student spoke out against masks, saying classrooms have no air conditioning and it's not "common sense" to require a mask.

Others spoke in support of masking and said whatever can be done to protect children's health should be done.

Michelle Moge said mandating masks is a good thing.

"The kids, they can do this," she said. 

Jenna Paradise said there was a lot of anger in the room. She said she is teaching her two children that masks are okay.

"If we could just roll with this, it's a simple request," Paradise said. "Do not confuse oppression with inconvenience." 

Connors-Krikorian said the decision to mask is the best decision.

"We have normalized the school experience as much as possible," she said.

School board member Paul Lutz said it's counterproductive to argue, be disrespectful and to draw sides on the issue.

"I hate what this virus has done to us," Lutz said, urging those attending to be respectful of all opinions on both sides.

"I care about kids, I care about the community and I care about education," Lutz said. 

Board member Brenda Willis said she has always made decisions based on putting a child first. 

"We have to trust the experts," Willis said.

Board member Derick Anderson agreed.

"My choice is to follow the guidance that is given to us," he said.  

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