On Tuesday, Aug. 17, superintendent of Bayport-Blue Point schools, Dr. Timothy Hearney, gave a presentation on his plan and safety measures to be taken for the opening of the 2021-2022 school year given the ongoing pandemic.
President of the Bayport-Blue Point Board of Education, Michael Miller, stressed that the board understood how contentious of an issue universal masking was to the community and assured speakers they would all be heard.
Katherine Hanley spoke before the presentation. Having two children in high school and one in elementary, Hanley was concerned for all students and said, “I feel very strongly about freedom of choice and you choose to mask up… because we are all Americans and we live in a free country, we can all make choices for our children.”
Hearney gave his presentation, which provided the following information and made the following points:
A timeline of the past 18 months citing policies made for COVID-19 safety by governmental and health agencies, with the last entry being the NYSED’s Health and Safety Guide for 2021-2022.
All K-12 students of Bayport-Blue Point School District would return to in-person schooling on Wednesday, Sept. 1.
Per recommendations by CDC, NCDHS, and NYSED, masks would be required of all staff, students, and visitors in the school district and on busses.
Optional masking is in effect for outdoor activities.
Social distancing of 3 feet would be maintained and 6 feet for chorus, band, and lunch.
Daily health questionnaires would no longer be required of staff.
Returning to buildings would not result in “pre-pandemic,” or typical, schooling.
Each building would have a dedicated isolation room for those displaying COVID-19 symptoms during the course of the school day.
Throughout the presentation and during conversations with speakers, Hearney affirmed that his goal and the board’s was to reinstitute in-person learning, as it was agreed that remote learning was not as conducive to academic performance or mental well-being of students.
Following the presentation, a number of community speakers expressed their concern or support for the universal masking unveiled by Hearney.
Carolyn Serrano, mother of a third-grade child, asked what law allowed them to do this and lamented home schooling, which would keep her from her friends.
Members of the audience, who did not wear masks and who supported Serrano’s view, clapped when she declared that no law existed that mandated masks.
Jen McCormack, who has been leading the anti-mask movement in the community, echoed Serrano’s questions regarding the validity of the board/superintendent to enforce universal masking. Miller reiterated that no concerns were brought up by the board following the presentation, to which McCormack challenged that no official vote had been held by the board.
Miller acquiesced and held a vote with the five out of seven board members present at the meeting, and the motion passed with support of all five members.
A father spoke following McCormack who expressed his disillusionment with wearing masks, but asked those who spoke out against mandating them to take into account that certain parents would be irresponsible and sent sick children into school without a mask. He proffered a scenario where a sick child would expose another child who would then infect a vulnerable grandparent, to anti-mask community members.
Nicole Robinson gave an emotional testimony and claimed to have “hundreds of pages of evidence” that masks “stunted intellectual growth” and “hampered social skills.” Hearney acknowledged that he had received her compilation of findings.
A mother of four spoke with a shaking voice as she told a story of her young daughter’s “eyes rolling in the back of her head” and passing out in school with a mask on and having to be brought back to consciousness by a friend who noticed her in ill health.
Lea Anne Philipson became uncomfortably contentious with the board members and began shouting, questioning whether board members lived in the district (they must) and insisted they were paid a salary (board of education members are volunteer), and ultimately had to be escorted away from the podium by security personnel who continued to speak with her throughout the remainder of the meeting.
Some speakers inquired about a virtual option and Hearney answered that as it was not mandated this year, only home-learning options were in place and reserved for students with medical conditions that did not allow them to physically attend school.
Marie Neilon spoke out in support and favor of the school district, stating, “Thank you to our wonderful superintendent for keeping our students safe.” Neilon’s daughter is the fifth generation of her family to be in the school district and older members of her family worked for BBP schools.
Chris Cavuto spoke about his support for parental choice in terms of masking and asked the board to listen to parents who had previously signed a petition asking for a virtual option, and that the list this year had “nearly doubled to 230 signatures.” Hearney responded that he had taken a closer look at the petition, even researching the households of the signers, but that the goal was always to have students back in school.
An attorney for the school spoke to address repeated concerns that the board and superintendent did not have the authority to mandate masks, citing specific law statutes that granted the board the purview over such decisions.
Additional speakers expressed to the board their dissatisfaction with the decision to have universal masking.