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Red Clay School Board is latest to face pushback to school mask mandate

Delaware Public Media

Parents for and against Gov John Carney’s mask mandate for schools voice their  opinions during the Red Clay School Board meeting.

The meeting’s public comment portion was heated, emotional, and disruptive as many parents on Zoom and in person spoke about the state’s mask mandate for all schools.

While some parents against the mask mandate referred to reports since retracted, others offered personal stories of their children struggling with masks this past school year.

Christina Pala was one of the night’s more emotional speakers.

"COVID is a virus that will never go away. There will be new variants, new guidelines to follow. Are you going to mask our children forever? Are we going to keep complying? That is what this is really about control!"

Marianne Roken is in favor of Carney’s mask mandate.

"It's true the risk of severe disease from COVID in young children is low, but it's not zero. And the risk of asymptomatic children spreading the infection to adults and their families is very real. Adults are much more likely to experience severe disease," said Roken.

Other parents want the district to continue offering remote learning as part of a hybrid education model to keep their children safe. 

But some protestors yelled while those supporting masks spoke, and others used public comment to take aim at teaching Critical Race Theory.

Lisa Malatesta was among those opposing the mandate, suggesting the state and district could face legal issues.

"Abuse means causing any physical injury to a child through unjustified force. You're forcing our kids to wear a mask. They're going to be hurt. Who's liable?" said Malatesta. "A conviction is not required for an active abuse or neglect to be used in prosecution and basically the definition is impairment of health or loss of impairment of function of the body. So they can't breathe, you're impairing them for breathing, you're demanding they wear a mask. No one's taking liability. So class action lawsuits, I guess, are going to have to be the next step."

Last week, Dr. Kenneth Alexander, Chief of Infectious Disease at Nemours Children’s Hospital said masks are safe for kids and do not cause carbon dioxide retention and other illnesses that many anti-maskers argue. 

Red Clay is the latest district to have the mask mandate debate dominate its school board meeting.  Brandywine School District postponed its meeting earlier this week when a group opposed to the mandate refused to wear masks and protests delayed Caesar Rodney’s meeting temporarily.

The string of mask mandate protests at school board meeting prompted a statement from State Senate Democrats on the Senate Education Committee, including Chair Laura Sturgeon, Majority Whip Elizabeth Lockman, Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, and Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend.

They called the disruptions at the meetings "immature and irresponsible behavior."

"Adults who claim to have the best interest of children at heart have repeatedly disrupted – or halted entirely – the functions of local school boards at a time when they are diligently preparing for a return to full, in-person instruction," the statement read in part. "During the height of the pandemic, many of these same parents protested remote learning, in which children virtually participated in school from home where no mask was needed. They were adamant then that students belong in classrooms with their teachers. Now that our school districts are preparing for a return to in-person instruction with straightforward public health precautions in place, masks have suddenly become the focus of their outrage."


Wednesday afternoon, President Biden and his administration announced it would look for ways to support school districts in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona that are attempting to enforce mask mandates over opposition from state leaders.

Joe brings over 20 years of experience in news and radio to Delaware Public Media and the All Things Considered host position. He joined DPM in November 2019 as a reporter and fill-in ATC host after six years as a reporter and anchor at commercial radio stations in New Castle and Sussex Counties.
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