BOE Candidates Question 3: The Mask Mandate

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Masks. Prior to the pandemic, Verona’s public schools only needed to think about them on Halloween. But COVID-19 made masks, and many other things, essential measures for health and safety. These measures quickly became objects for debate and dissension that made for late nights at many Board of Education meetings. So we needed to ask candidates what they would do about mask mandates and other COVID protocols imposed by government and health authorities. The question, and their answers, are below/

MyVeronaNJ.com has published its full interviews with Rom Mueller, Pam Priscoe and Chris Wacha on a page specifically for that candidate, but you can read all the answers to Question Three here, and zero in on a specific answer by clicking on a candidate’s name in the list below, which is ordered by their position on the ballot.

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Do you support Gov. Murphy’s COVID mask mandate for schools and the vaccination and testing requirements for teachers and staff? How then will you help the BOE to carry out any future directives to prevent the spread of COVID from the state or health authorities that might not be what some parents want?

Pam Priscoe
Chris Wacha
Ron Mueller

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#FF3342″ class=”” size=””]I am fully for the protection of our staff and our children[/perfectpullquote]

Pam Priscoe: So obviously there’s two sides. One side that doesn’t agree and one side that does agree. I want everybody to be protected, our staff, most importantly, and our students, should be protected, and if a student is not able to get a vaccine at this point, if they’re under the age, then they need to be in a mask. When those guidelines shift from the Department of Health and the CDC regulations, that is when we can shift, but if Governor Murphy, or whoever is in charge, decides to change that policy, then that is when we will follow suit. I understand it is very difficult for children and teachers, especially in the extreme heat, to have a mask on. Luckily we are getting through the hot temperatures now so wearing a mask during the day should be much easier. But again it’s to protect everyone and to protect all our children because it just takes that one teacher, or that one student to, God forbid, have something happen. I am fully for the protection of our staff and our children. And, you know, again, we’re not going to always please everyone with what is the right answer, but until we get a different direction, we have to follow what we’re told. We do whatever is mandated by the state. Our superintendent is told what to do from the state. That is what I as a Board member feel we should follow.

Read more Pam Priscoe answers here.

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[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#FF3342″ class=”” size=””]Wearing masks made the virus very, very difficult to spread from one person to another[/perfectpullquote]

Chris Wacha: Every Board candidate is going to take an oath saying that they’re going to follow the laws of the state of New Jersey. This executive order carries with it the law of kids must wear masks while in a building; adults, visitors, as well while they’re inside the building. So will I support it, yes. I’m in my office with the door closed doing this interview but every time I leave my office, the mask goes right back on.

We found that we were able to open our building full time the entire year last year. We believe that wearing masks made the virus very, very difficult to spread from one person to another person within the school setting. So will I support it? Yes.

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As far as is this a good idea, the parents are unhappy about it and I can certainly empathize with them. I think it’s really hard for kids, I think it’s hard for staff. It’s not something that’s ideal. And I imagine that whenever it is that Governor Murphy, or whatever the next governor might be, potentially lifts that executive order, I would imagine that our COVID numbers would be at a certain metric where that would make sense, where it was less likely there would be viral transmission within the school setting. It absolutely makes the learning harder in some ways and even more intimidating for students.

Wacha clarified that, for the 2020-2021 school year, the Haledon school initially divided its students into two groups that would alternate being in the building for a full week. In December, the district policy became that any child who wanted to come in every day could do so. Wacha said that there were 12 times when Haledon was notified that COVID was in its building and that it had evidence of one transmission within its school setting. In the current school year, Haledon has been announcing COVID cases in posts to its Facebook page.

Read more Chris Wacha answers here.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#FF3342″ class=”” size=””]If that is what is required then that is what we have to support[/perfectpullquote]

Ron Mueller:As a local BOE, we have to follow the mandates from the state, and we have to clearly communicate to our, our parents and citizens of our town that you know we are having to facilitate whatever the state hands down to us as mandates in order to receive the funding that we receive from the state and in order to, you know, fall in line with where the state is headed. So, I would say, if our school district is strongly against or our town is strongly against mandates headed down from the state, that it’s in our rights to inform the state that we disagree with the mandates that are being handed down, but that if that is what is required then that is what we have to support and follow.

Read more Ron Mueller answers here.

The answers to Question One, what does the BOE do, are here; Question Two, about having the time to serve on the BOE, is here.

Read the full interviews with each candidate.

You can watch the Verona Conference of SCAs candidate forum here.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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