CLAREMONT — Masks will remain optional at Claremont School Board meetings, though most board members say they intend to wear them.

Masks have been optional for Claremont School Board members during their meetings since June 2, when the board decided it was safe to remove the mandatory requirement.

While masking is currently mandatory inside the building during regular school hours, the board meetings are considered a low to minimal risk to spread infection, based on state and federal safety guidelines. The meetings typically have a small attendance and are held in a spacious room. Nearly or possibly all of the participants are believed to be vaccinated.

But several board members said this week that board members should still wear masks inside the school buildings, if anything for public perception.

“I think the main thing is just the optics of going into buildings,” said Chair Frank Sprague on Wednesday. “I hate wearing masks and can only assume that other people hate wearing masks too. So for me to be there and they do, that’s just [not right] to me.”

In a phone interview with the Eagle Times on Friday, Sprague clarified that he was specifically referring to the evening board meetings and that board members will follow the district’s masking policy if visiting a school during the business day.

Board member Steven Horsky agreed about wearing a mask, though he said he was less concerned about perception than simple fairness.

“As much as I would love to see masking be a choice, if I’m going to make these kids mask up and muzzle them, I’m going to muzzle myself too,” Horsky said. “Because I’m not above those children either.”

Some board members disagreed that wearing a mask was necessarily the best image.

Vice-chair Heather Whitney, while not opposed to masking, said she preferred that masks be optional to people who are vaccinated because such privileges are more likely to incentivize the large percentage of citizens who remain unvaccinated.

“The optics I want to send out is that we have 90 percent of the people, if not 100 percent of the people in this room who are vaccinated, and when you do that you get closer to normalcy,” Whitney said.

Claremont, with only 44 percent of its residents being fully vaccinated, has the lowest vaccination rate of any New Hampshire city. Whitney said that people need to make their own decision about whether to vaccinate though she also wants people to see the benefits from it.

Sprague, who recently recovered from a nearly two-week bout of COVID infection, said his illness has bolstered his concerns about spreading the illness.

“After my experience of going to bed at night and not knowing if tomorrow morning is the morning when I am not able to breathe, because it sat in me for twelve days, that is a dangerous thing for someone who is vulnerable,” Sprague said.

Sprague said he contracted the virus despite being vaccinated. While studies find that the symptoms of the virus are typically milder in breakthrough infections, Sprague said he suffered nearly all the symptoms, including fever, headaches, shortness of breath and a loss of smell.

“So I am going to wear a mask, even though I am vaccinated and have had [the virus],” Sprague said. “I just don’t know that I cannot get it again.”

The board did not pass a motion to change the board’s current meeting rule. Members later told The Eagle Times that they felt a motion was unnecessary given that all the members on Wednesday had chosen to mask and there seemed an overall agreement about masking.

reporter @eagletimes.com

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