Editorial: Mask policy deserves public hearing

Posted 3/2/22

Throughout Rhode Island, school committees have been gathering to discuss what their indoor mask policies will be after Gov. Dan McKee’s executive order expires this Friday. It appears that …

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Editorial: Mask policy deserves public hearing

Posted

Throughout Rhode Island, school committees have been gathering to discuss what their indoor mask policies will be after Gov. Dan McKee’s executive order expires this Friday. It appears that will not be the case in Barrington.

The most likely scenario is that the district’s “Re-Entry Task Force,” a cross-section of school leaders, will meet privately, finalize its new plan, and communicate the details to thousands of families via email. One might expect a policy of such impact to warrant a public hearing and vote, but as of Tuesday morning, the Barrington School Committee had no public meetings posted for this week.

There are myriad reasons to bring this issue before the public. Though most folks believe they know where everyone else stands, and have heard all the arguments before, that is not always true. Recent public meetings have attracted new people, new voices, new perspectives, to an issue that impacts a majority of the residents living in this community.

By its very nature, a public meeting is also open to all sides. So a parent who wants the masks taken off yesterday, and a parent who wants the masks to remain in place for her immune-compromised child, can both stand up and share their equally valuable opinions.

Yet recent events have probably made the school committee squeamish about opening up the dialogue. After firing teachers, flip-flopping on vaccine mandates, and enacting some of the most aggressive Covid policies, they’ve stirred up a group of frustrated parents who are increasingly critical and increasingly vocal. The last public meeting was far from pleasant.

In response, school leaders could choose to look in the mirror and ask why that is. Why is the public more agitated than anytime in memory?

The pandemic has obviously put a strain on everyone and everything, but that explanation is too simple. More than any peaceful time in American history, the government has been exerting enormous influence and enacting significant restrictions, on systems, people and freedoms. In response, people want to object, they want a voice, and they want to be heard.

These are not routine matters, like whether to purchase a new firetruck, or which math curriculum to adopt. These are policies impacting thousands of children every day, and their parents, teachers and students themselves have a right to be involved in the decision-making process.

Unfortunately, it seems they won’t be here in Barrington.

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Media Group team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaymediagroup.com.