It took the Cape Henlopen school board 40 minutes to adjourn its Aug. 19 meeting amidst the outcry from nearly 60 people who were not allowed to speak about the district’s mask mandate.
Board President Alison Myers allotted only 15 minutes for public comment on the Cape Henlopen School District’s school opening policy that includes wearing face masks inside for children from kindergarten to 12th grade during the 2021-22 school year. The board unanimously approved the school opening plan.
“That’s only five people,” one man yelled from the audience, after Myers added that speakers would be held to a three-minute maximum. Several people in the audience said they had been told by Cape district staff that everyone who showed up would be allowed to speak.
“I called this morning and you said everyone would have their three minutes,” the unidentified man said. “This is absolutely an atrocity.”
Of the five who spoke, only one masked woman said she favors the mask mandate.
“We have children who go home and have parents who get their science information from the pillow man,” said Marcia Boyle. “I think those who listen to the researchers, the scientists, and the doctors agree with your decision and appreciate it.”
Her remaining comments were eventually drowned out by audience members, who were loud and clear regarding how they feel about face masks for children.
Milton resident Nick LaRusso said the Centers for Disease Control recommendation for mask wearing has gone on too long, is psychological abuse, and should be voted down by the board.
“If you can’t do it, anyone who wants to run against them, I have $1,000 for your campaign,” he said. “Freedom of choice is all we want … we’re not scared, because it ain’t doing nothing to the kids. Enough is enough.”
Brandy Lloyd questioned what the board is protecting students from when the number of COVID cases across the state makes up a fraction of the population. “What are we keeping them safe from, and at what cost?” she asked.
Reading from her child’s individual education plan from last school year, she said the teacher wrote that the face mask hindered her child’s ability to communicate with peers, a problem that worsened throughout the school year. “He comes home each day with a mask that is soaking wet, and he continues to be forced to wear this,” she said, referring to last school year.
Paul Davis recalled the days of eating at restaurants when masks were required for patrons to walk in, but allowed off once seated. “This virus is so discerning and respectful when we eat, but it stands in the lurches for if you get up to use the restroom. It will attack you,” he said.
One woman, who identified herself as a Beebe Healthcare nurse who worked throughout the 2020 pandemic, said she saw only one pediatric COVID case come through the emergency room during that time.
“This is very puzzling to me why we’re still doing this, because I’ve lived it and seen it. This isn’t Fox News, this isn’t CNN, this is real life in our community,” she said.
During the 2018-19 flu season, she said, she remembers children flown by helicopter to A.I. duPont Hospital for treatment because they were dying.
“Not one time did anyone suggest we stop living and instill fear and muzzle our children. Not one time,” she said.
School boards questioned
Parents across the state have questioned school boards over Gov. John Carney’s mask mandate. The mandate, which went into effect Aug. 16, requires face coverings for students and teachers at all public and private schools. Delmarva Christian Schools sent an email to parents allowing them to decide whether their children wear face coverings.
Cape Henlopen’s school board meeting followed similar meetings at Brandywine, Caesar Rodney, and Red Clay Consolidated in which parents protested the mask mandate.
Although it has been quiet in recent years, controversial meetings are not new for Cape Henlopen. The community was set off in 2011 when the board considered combining Milton and H.O. Brittingham elementaries. In 2014, the board’s decision to shelve a summer book list garnered a community outcry, with a similar contentious reaction when the board considered adding a Bible study course at the high school.
In all cases, the board amended its 15-minute public comment time frame and allowed everyone the opportunity to speak for three minutes.