TEWKSBURY — The Tewksbury Board of Health met Wednesday, Aug. 18, for a special meeting to discuss the wearing of masks in the Tewksbury Public Schools for the upcoming school year and to provide input to the Tewksbury School Committee.
Chairperson Raymond Barry called the meeting to order. Present at the meeting were members of the public, with several members of a parent organization wearing red shirts.
Peter Foster, a parent, was holding a sign from MassAgainstMandates.org.
Chairperson Barry explained that the Board of Health wanted to provide input to the School Committee for a meeting later that evening, where the School Committee would discuss and vote on whether mask wearing at the start of school would be required or not.
Barry also explained that the board would explain a framework for monitoring the situation going forward.
Barry asked the board members to explain their personal positions in regard to mask wearing. Member Charles Roux said that he believed “the decision for children to wear masks is solely on the parents.” Roux believes masks cause more harm than help, at which point members of the audience applauded.
Member Tony Boschetti, who joined the meeting via telephone, stated, “parents should be the ultimate arbitrators” and, in his opinion, “currently all the data indicates that it is more detrimental than helpful.”
Boschetti did not cite any specific sources of this information.
Robert Scarano, Board of Health member, said, “since June 29 of this year there have been no mandated masks, so the parents have been determining what is in the best interests of their children.”
Scarano’s opinion was that parents should be in control of the decision for their families as they are most familiar with the health situations in their households.
Member Maria Zaroulis disagreed with the other board members, citing vulnerable population impacts. Zaroulis said children are bringing the infection into homes, and the variant is spreading rapidly.
“I know it is hard for children to wear masks… I feel it is best for children to wear masks in school to halt the spread,” noting that a return to full remote learning could be coming if there is no effort to stem transmission of the virus.
Chairperson Barry was concerned about the number of infections in the town. Barry said that his concern is that, while Massachusetts has seen a slower increase in case counts, the numbers are increasing.
Barry said, “it behooves us to act on the side of caution, and look at wearing masks for a 30 day period, and then revisit the issue.”
Barry stated that the issue has unfortunately become politicized, and that the board is supposed to work from factual information.
“I have to look on the side of public health of all residents,” said Barry.
Barry added, “you cannot get sicker from wearing a mask,” at which point audience members exclaimed, “yes you can.”
Scarano spoke to the audience and explained that the meeting was not a public hearing, and that decorum must be maintained.
Barry asked for a vote to communicate to the town manager so that the result could be given to the School Committee. Scarano motioned for members to cast their vote.
Roux asked about the age of children being referred to in the motion for wearing masks. Scarano held the motion and stated that all students, regardless of age, when riding a school bus, must wear a mask, per federal mandate.
Scarano’s opinion was that a distinction was not being made about the age for children to wear masks in the school buildings. Barry said there was not a specific age recommendation asked for by the School Committee, just a general recommendation.
Roux, Boschetti, and Scarano voted “nay” to not require students to wear masks and leave it to the decision of the parents. Zaroulis and Barry voted yay. Some audience members applauded.
Scarano explained that the Board of Health, moving forward as a group, will review state infection data on a week-by-week basis.
“Just because this starts as no mask, does not mean it will end up that way,” said Scarano, referencing the board’s vote.
Scarano also acknowledged that the school department would have the final say and that the Board of Health would only be making recommendations. Barry said that the board will reconvene in two weeks to revisit the town and state data.
Should information require meeting sooner, the board will post the meeting and notify the community. State data is made available on Fridays, so the board will determine their meeting schedule, and potentially review the data virtually.
“We will provide full transparency,” said Barry.
Members of the audience asked about how to send information to the board. All communication is to go through the health director, Shannon Sullivan at email@example.com.
Barry asked for “thoughtful comments” and asked the public not to “spam” the health department.
(Eds. note: the School Committee voted, 4-1, to implement a mask mandate in school buildings)