Bayport - Blue Point

Parents debate masking students

BBP parents argue for and against masking students

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The Bayport-Blue Point Board of Education meeting held on Tuesday, June 8, lasted over three hours, ending at approximately 10 p.m.

The jam-packed agenda started off with the honoring of retirees and tenure candidates in the district, of which there were 19 retirees and six tenure candidates.

Students whose artwork was selected for the district calendar were honored with certificates and a group picture in the hallway of the auditorium where the meeting was held.

This year included a Suffolk County PTA Unsung Teacher of the Year Award for TJ Smith and a Suffolk School Library Media Association 2021 Librarian of the Year for Susan Henke-Brinkman.

Three people won SCOPE awards: Monica Valestrand (nurse, SCOPE Shining Star Award), Heather Triffiletti (teacher, SCOPE Shining Star Award), and Roberta Zoeller (community member).

Teachers of the Month from February to June were honored.

A number of in-depth presentations were held about money granted to the district from two pandemic stimulus bills passed under both Trump and Biden administrations, updates to the Code of Conduct, and a number-laden PowerPoint on the district fund balance and reserve accounts.

The community members present for the public commentary period were concerned with the mask mandate at the schools that require students to remain masked while indoors (the board voted to allow students to be unmasked outdoors).

Blue Point parent Nicole Robinson spoke first, citing her devotion to her children and parents in the district who wished their voices to be heard regarding the masking situation in the school.

The first four parents who spoke demanded answers of the school board regarding particular action towards students who refused to wear a mask in school. Superintendent Dr. Timothy Hearney responded that a conversation would be had with the student and a possible phone call to the parents, but reiterated that each situation would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis and that there was no blanket disciplinary action recommended or in place by him.

Jensuh McCormack, a vocal parent who is an administrator of the Facebook group “Unmask BBP,” was the third parent to speak. Initially, she was asked by president Michael Miller to wear a mask and McCormack stated that she was medically excused from wearing one due to mask intolerance stemming from an episode last July where she had an asthma attack with a mask on. She presented her doctor’s note from the podium and asked if she would be allowed to speak or if the board would “discriminate against someone with a medical disability.”

Miller allowed her to continue to speak without a mask, albeit he had insisted at the outset of the public commentary portion that speakers “respectfully come to the podium with a mask on.”

McCormack, as most other speakers that evening, went over the allotted three minutes, and spoke passionately about her reticence for her children being masked in school and also expressed she was wary that the mask mandate would only be two weeks until the end of school, given that the original campaign to “stop the spread” was originally 15 days at outset.

During back-and-forth with Miller and Hearney, McCormack agreed that while the former two were responsive to her the past four days with changing guidance on mask mandates, they had not answered her inquiries to her satisfaction. McCormack asked to poll the individual board trustees on “where they stand with my body, my choice” regarding masks, and Miller emphatically stated that the board of education worked as a group and would only provide group statements instead of individual answers to McCormack’s inquiry.

McCormack told an anecdote about a child’s friend who felt “scared” to take off her mask at a restaurant, despite sweating profusely, and cited this incident as indicative of larger “psychological damage” being done to children because of mask mandates.

Hearney countered, stating he had visited many classrooms throughout this pandemic and was “extremely proud of the staff I work with,” which generated strong applause from half the audience. He said that while other schools had to close down dozens of times, BBP had not had to disrupt learning because of the great dedication of staff to keep students safe.

McCormack stated that she also felt the staff had done a tremendous job in a difficult year, but that “the science is out: masks are unsafe. They don’t prevent transmission, just like the plastic barriers they once thought did. And now we are asking the board to write to [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo.”

Finally, McCormack criticized the board for her perceived uncritical response to the board voting for the school district to function as a vaccine site.

Hearney said that the vote was affirmed in order to provide vaccines for the community as “schools are the center of the community,” and not as any indication of vaccine mandates of students within the district.

Chris Cavuto pleaded with the board of education to use “discretion,” feeling that the mask mandate should allow for instances where students could take off their mask as the language mandated, “to wear masks as tolerated.”

Cavuto also asked the board why they did not move the public commentary portion to earlier in the evening, stating that many people who wanted to speak had to leave, as the meeting went on for over two and half hours before community members were invited to speak.

Miller said that the agenda was created to prioritize the honoring of retirees, tenure candidates, student award winners, and teacher award winners and that they were unaware of how many community members were interested in speaking at the June 8 meeting.

In a pointed example, Cavuto said during his fifth-grade daughter’s field day, parents had to watch through a chain-link fence, “like watching a prison yard,” to which a dozen or so community members scoffed and expressed their distaste for the comparison.

Hearney and Miller echoed these audience members’ sentiments and went on to explain the difference between afterschool sports mask and social-distancing parameters and field day, an in-school event, namely that the former followed specification from the state sports authority and the latter needed to be in line with school-day rules.

Cavuto spoke of “distrust in the community,” implying it was widespread, with the board of education, but Hearney and Miller cited fewer than 20 parents had contacted them regarding their disapproval of the mask mandate for the remainder of the year.

Nikki Pignataro spoke to say that while she agreed with some of the previous speakers’ sentiments, she understood that the state mandates prevented the board from taking any other action regarding masks for students.

Marie Neilon countered claims by previous speakers, stating that the “science proved masks are effective,” and stood by statements made by the American Pediatric Society and CDC. (Please note, after the meeting, McCormack shouted at Neilon across the parking lot as she exited, telling her that “if masks work, you don’t need to worry about people not wearing masks,” citing her own recent, personal experience in the hospital, where she did not wear a mask but the medical staff did. McCormack also said that Neilon should “read Fauci’s emails” to counter her support of established medical groups.)

The final speaker of the evening, Holly Iuliucci, sought to end the meeting “on a positive note, as it had begun,” and thanked the board for their commitment to following state guidelines and having the best interest of students in mind.

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